The Silent Killers in Our Schools: Steps to a Solution PART 2


Archie Bowen of Calvert County Schools, Maryland

As parents, children or occupants of a school, you as individuals can speak to a principal who are in direct contact with building and maintenance management for your specific school or district. Be sure to find answers to the following questions listed:

1. Find out what kinds of chemicals are being used for floor care and cleaning such as finishes, strippers, disinfectants, cleaners and air fresheners. Go ahead and ask a member of the custodial staff or the building and maintenance supervisor for more information. Do your research and check these products for VOC content. These can be found by contacting the manufacturer of the products.

(If your school district has a sustainability director on staff, be sure to get into contact with them as these individuals are responsible for implementing programs to increase environmental health in schools.)

2. How often does your school strip their floors? Are the products your school uses designed to eliminate the stripping cycle in order to prevent further source pollution contamination?

3. Are these products registered under a third party green certification body (UL (Underwriters) Environment, Green Seal)?

Our health and the health of our families is the priority. It becomes too often where we find ourselves stuck in hopeless situations where health becomes marginalized. The only way we can rise above potentially dangerous and unknown threats to our health is if we ask the right questions and search for a lasting healthy solution that very much exists. Hundreds of schools nationwide have adopted green initiative programs to increase IAQ in their schools, reduce or eliminate source pollution and adopt safe and healthy procedures that pose no threat to the health of occupants. These individuals do exist.

1. Archie Bowen, a former math teacher of Calvert County Schools, Maryland has managed the transition of 26 schools to a truly green floor and cleaning program. Since 1999, Calvert County has seen progressive increases in the overall health of their school and eliminated the stripping process preventing over 230 tons (507,063lb) of sludge from entering the environment.

2. Olivia Claus, Manager of Custodial Operations of Howard County Schools, MD eliminated the stripping process in 2004 preventing to date, approximately 5,600lb of sludge from entering the environment. By implementing a green floor care program that addresses VOCs and source pollution, Olivia has been able to enhance the overall care for the building and its occupants.

3. Laura Olsen, Environmental and Safety Director for Frederick County Schools implemented the same program in 2003 addressing VOCs in an attempt to increase the health of her schools, students, staff and visitors. Within 5 years, she transitioned 67 schools which now prevents 34 tons of hazardous sludge from entering the environment every year. For her unrelenting efforts to increase the quality of life for her schools, Frederick County Public Schools had won the 2010 EPA National Excellence Award for IAQ.


Laura Olsen standing second from the left being awarded the EPA National Excellence Award for IAQ and Mr. Steve Focht standing to the far right

4. Steve Focht of Ultra Commercial, started the Ultra School Program in 1998 with Dr. John Shieh at Calvert County Schools, MD, a program designed to substantially reduce or eliminate VOCs that pertain to cleaning and stripping procedures. For over 14 years he has worked tirelessly in converting over 300 school systems onto this program resulting in better IAQ levels and healthier school environments for thousands of students, staff and teachers.

Steve's profile pic outline

5. Ron Timmons of Nothing But Green Living Enterprises of Mount Laurel, NJ uses a hands on approach and the newest technologies to provides schools with VOC free building care solutions. Nothing But Green Living has been named among the most trustworthy names in South Jersey businesses, by South Jersey Biz Magazine. Ron has also been recognized by Assemblyman, Troy Singleton representing New Jersey’s 7th Legislative District for providing the Mount Laurel community with environmentally conscious cleaning products and methods. Follow the link to read more on Mr. Singleton’s experience with the men behind Nothing But Green Living (Read More).


These individuals are husbands, wives, fathers and mothers who have seen and lived through times of health disarray in schools and in their communities. Their beliefs in achieving their goals for the betterment of school and public health is what drove them in making a conscious difference within our national school system. Speaking to each one of them, they will acknowledge that their goals are far from being reached. Yet, by using their skills and talents, they have taken the concerns of their communities to heart in order to create positive awareness and change for a safer environmental future.

Education is the first step in preventing similar health tragedies like those that deeply affected the Gibbon’s family.  Facilitating the change necessary for wider environmental progression will be based on the questions you ask and the individual dedication we have in seeing each one of our goals through to the end. Following the solutions outlined here provides an excellent start in developing the foundation for environmental awareness. The rest is up to you.


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