In light of recent revelations that chemicals were being stored improperly for years, the science department is moving to implement a new chemical disposal system that will improve safety and free up shelf space for chemistry teachers. In tandem with this effort is a move to renovate the ventilation systems in science classrooms to allow for proper ventilation of toxic chemicals.
For decades, the science department kept excess chemicals on the shelves which had long gone out of use. With no regular system to dispose of them, the chemical storage cabinets fell into neglect, creating large amounts of clutter for teachers. Chemistry teacher Dr. Deborah Yager said that CVHS has chemicals dating as far back back as the 1950s.
Castro Valley Teachers Association President John Green saw this lack of record-keeping as a potential liability.
“The law is very clear about the minimum safety requirements,” he said. “I think that we have to be clear that there is a moral obligation to keep students and staff safe. We can’t go ahead with an educational program if we’re putting someone at unnecessary risk.”
The new system will do much to improve organization; it will have old and excess chemicals picked up at regular dates throughout the year. This is a huge improvement for chemistry teachers, who previously had to request a pick up every time they wanted to get rid of chemicals.
“It’s having a more proactive approach rather than a reactive one,” said Assistant Principal Matt Steinecke, who is charge of on-site logistics for the project.
The first mass cleaning of the shelves will take place this Thanksgiving break, whereupon all excess chemicals will be picked up by the district. After being picked up, the chemicals will be permanently incinerated.
“It’s simple, clear, and easy to do as a department,” Yager said.
Due to an increased demand for chemistry sections in recent years, many chemistry teachers have been forced to teach in rooms that are not outfitted with the proper safety equipment.
“Now that everybody takes biology and chemistry to graduate from high school, we have more chemistry sections,” said Richard Schneck, a chemistry teacher. “We don’t necessarily have all the rooms ready to do that.”
Schneck has been teaching for years in a room without an eyewash station or emergency shower, both essential pieces of safety equipment for lab-based chemistry classes. His room also lacks the ventilation necessary to handle corrosive chemicals, such as hydrochloric acid, in the high concentrations necessary for labs.
The school is currently in the process of renovating new classrooms for chemistry use. Green said that by the end of January, all chemistry rooms will have the proper safety equipment necessary to do labs. However, according to those involved with the project, there was no real risk to students.
“We certainly had issues with ventilation in this building, which is a whole separate concern,” said Yager. “But no students were in any serious risk.”
Michael Miller, the district administrator in charge of the project, agreed.
“We have had the facility inspected by Keenan & Associates, which is the district’s risk management company,” said Miller. “They found that the chemicals in most cases were properly stored, and they did not see any issues that presented an immediate hazard.”