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News From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
December 24 2008

Hazardous Chemical Incidents in Schools—United States, 2002-2007

JAMA. 2008;300(24):2849-2850. doi:10.1001/jama.300.24.2849

MMWR. 2008;57:1197-1200

2 tables omitted

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, printing 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 The federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) conducts national public health surveillance of chemical incidents through its Hazardous Substances Emergency Events Surveillance (HSEES) system. To identify school-related incidents and elucidate their causes and consequences 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 secondary schools were reported by 15 participating states. Mercury was the most common chemical released. The 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.