Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report
November 7, 2008 / Vol. 57 / No. 44
Hazardous Chemical Incidents in Schools — United States, 2002–2007
Chemicals that can cause adverse health effects are used in many elementary and secondary schools (e.g., in chemistry laboratories, art classrooms, automotive repair areas, print- ing and other vocational shops, and facility maintenance areas) (1). Every year, unintentional and intentional releases of these chemicals, or related fires or explosions, occur in schools, causing injuries, costly cleanups, and lost school days (1). e federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) conducts national public health surveil- lance of chemical incidents through its Hazardous Substances Emergency Events Surveillance (HSEES) system. To identify school-related incidents and elucidate their causes and con- sequences to highlight the need for intervention, ATSDR conducted an analysis of HSEES data for 2002–2007. During that period, 423 chemical incidents in elementary and second- ary schools were reported by 15 participating states. Mercury was the most common chemical released. e analysis found that 62% of reported chemical incidents at elementary and secondary schools resulted from human error (i.e., mistakes in the use or handling of a substance), and 30% of incidents resulted in at least one acute injury. Proper chemical use and management (e.g., keeping an inventory and properly storing, labeling, and disposing of chemicals) is essential to protect school building occupants. Additional education directed at raising awareness of the problem and providing resources to reduce the risk is needed to ensure that schools are safe from unnecessary dangers posed by hazardous chemicals.
humans. e HSEES protocol defines an eligible event as an uncontrolled or illegal release, or threatened release, of one or more hazardous substances in a quantity sufficient to require removal, cleanup, or neutralization according to federal, state, or local law. However, the definition of an eligible incident varies among HSEES states because minimum reporting requirements vary according to state and local laws. State health department programs actively gather information for HSEES by negotiating agreements with state and local agencies that are notified routinely when hazardous substances emergencies occur. Among these agencies are police and fire departments, environmental agencies, and various emergency response offices. e states also use news reports for identifying events. In each state, the HSEES coordinator reviews the circumstances surrounding each event, including the factors that contributed to school-related events.
In 2002, HSEES began collecting information to identify the primary contributing factors associated with chemical incidents. During 2002–2007, HSEES collected data from 15 states that reported school-related chemical events. Eleven state health departments (Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin) reported school-related events for all 6 years, and four additional state health departments reported events for some of those years (Mississippi: 2003, Missouri: 2002– 2005, and Florida and Michigan: 2005–2007).
ATSDR established HSEES in 1990 to collect data about acute hazardous substances releases (2). HSEES funds state health departments through a competitive program announce- ment to collect information about eligible events and enter the data into a standardized, ATSDR-provided web-based system. Each of these states employs a state HSEES coordina- tor. Under HSEES, a substance is considered hazardous if it might reasonably be expected to cause adverse health effects to
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