Children are considered to be a vulnerable population when it comes to exposures to hazardous substances. Schools, where children spend about one third of their day, are expected to be a safe environment. Yet, there are many hazardous substances in schools that can be inadvertently or intentionally released and harm the health of students and teachers alike. The purpose of this analysis is to characterize acute chemical release incidents in school settings and identify prevention practices.
The acute chemical incident surveillance programs of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) captured 24,748 acute chemical release incidents from 14 states that participated during 2008–2013. We examined 335 of these incidents that occurred at schools. While only 1.3% (n = 335) of all chemical incidents reported to ATSDR occurred in schools, these incidents represented a larger part of the total impacts, including 8.5% of incidents with persons injured, 5.7% of evacuations ordered, and 31.1% of people evacuated. Natural gas (21.8%) and mercury (18.2%) were the chemicals most frequently released.
Collecting and analyzing data on acute school chemical releases allows stakeholders to target prevention initiatives and provide a school environment safe from these chemical exposures.