Venues & Theatres > Safer Chemicals

Overview: Indoor Air Pollutants

Certain products and equipment can release into the air harmful chemicals including volatile organic compounds that can have an adverse impact on the health of people in your facility. Indoor air quality is sometimes much worse than outdoor air quality and indoor pollutants have many different sources, including paints, printer cartridges, adhesives, HVAC systems, portable generators, chairs and carpets, and other types of office equipment.

The sources of indoor air pollutants are diverse, and so are the solutions. Consider starting with the following suggestions, and consult the EPA’s Building Air Quality Guide for Facility Managers for more information about the reduction of indoor pollution.

  • Monitor for common indoor air pollutants such as radon and carbon monoxide
  • Centralizing printing and copying can reduce toner use and save money
  • Purchase products with low emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
  • Purchase less toxic cleaning and maintenance products
  • Limit use of indoor pesticides and investigate less toxic pest control methods

Health Benefits
The health effects of air pollutants vary depending on the particular pollutant. Elevated levels of SO2, NOX, VOCs, and particulate matter can cause or aggravate asthma and other serious respiratory symptoms, especially in children. Regular exposure to other pollutants, such as lead, benzene, radon, carbon monoxide, or pesticides, can also have serious effects on neurological, reproductive, and immune systems, and can even cause cancer. By monitoring for common indoor air pollutants such as CO and radon, your organization can help protect the health of staff, cast members, and theatregoers.

Additional Resources On Indoor Air Pollutants

  • EPA – Building Air Quality Guide for Facility Managers
  • OSHA – Indoor Air Quality
  • American Lung Association – Healthy Air at Work

Low-VOC Products

One of the important families of chemicals to consider when attempting to improve indoor air quality is volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Many of these chemicals are harmful to human health, and they are emitted by many common products.

Review the list of potentially harmful product categories below and consider sending a letter to your organization’s suppliers asking about the VOC emissions of the products you are currently using.

What Are Low-VOC Products?
Many commonly used products, such as paints and adhesives, emit a variety of harmful chemicals into the air for months after they have been applied. These chemicals, collectively termed volatile organic compounds (VOCs), can have a negative impact on indoor air quality and public health. While VOCs were once necessary for good performance in many products, most companies now produce cost-effective low-VOC replacements.

Products that might emit VOCs include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Paints
  • Paint thinner
  • Solvents
  • Wood preservatives
  • Finishes
  • Aerosol sprays
  • Cleaners and disinfectants
  • Air fresheners
  • Stored fuels
  • Dry-cleaned clothing
  • Carpets
  • Caulks and sealants
  • Adhesives
  • Office furniture

Product Specifications
“Low” concentrations of VOCs will vary according to the product type. For interior paints and stains, for example, low VOC-emitting products are those with VOC concentrations below 50 g/L. The best way to ensure that the products your organization purchases are low-emission is to consult with your suppliers. Consider using the guidelines in the following sample letter to obtain information on the VOC emissions of the products your organization buys.

Vendors
Where possible, purchase products that have been certified by Green Seal or Green Guard.The EPA’s Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Database ,and the  Responsible Purchasing Network are also excellent sources for product specifications, contract language, and lists of preferable products.

Sample letter to current suppliers

Dear _______,

[Our theatre] has initiated an effort to improve our environmental performance in all aspects of our operations. We would like to meet with you to discuss these objectives in more detail. We would also like to discuss ways to cost-effectively switch to less harmful products within the next few years.

We would like to reduce as much as possible the harmful effects associated with our operations, and we would like to speak with you about low-VOC alternatives to the products that we are currently using.

Please call me at your earliest convenience so that we can organize a meeting to pursue this discussion.

Environmental Benefits
Reducing the VOCs emitted by the products your organization uses can have a number of positive effects on both public health and the environment. Tests have shown that indoor concentrations of VOCs can be 2 to 5 times higher than outdoor concentrations. Immediately after the application of a high-VOC product, indoor levels can be over 1,000 times higher than outdoor levels. High concentrations of VOCs are known to cause a number of health problems, including eye and throat irritation, headaches, and damage to liver and nervous systems. In addition, some VOCs are thought to cause cancer. By purchasing and using low-emissions products, your organization reduces health risks to employees, and guests.

In addition to the known health effects, VOCs are a principal contributor to ground-level ozone, which in turn is a principal component of urban smog. And when VOCs are deposited on outdoor impervious surfaces or in landfills, they can find their way into the water supply through urban runoff and leaching. Reducing the VOC-content of your venue’s purchases helps to reduce all of these negative impacts.

Additional Resources On VOCs

  • Environmental Protection Agency VOC page
  • Minnesota Department of Health
  • Green Seal
  • EPA – Building Air Quality Guide for Facility Managers
  • OSHA – Indoor Air Quality
  • American Lung Association – Healthy Air at Work
  • Environmental Benefits and Cost Savings Calculator for Purchasers

Ozone-Friendly Products

Some products contain substances that break down the protective ozone layer that shields our planet from harmful ultraviolet rays. While these products are being phased out in many countries, you should check to make sure that the products you are using are not damaging the ozone layer.

Consider consulting your suppliers about the ozone depleting potential of the products they provide. The product specifications listed below should serve as a useful guide on how to avoid these chemicals.

Product Specifications
Many products contain chemicals that can destroy the protective layer of ozone that surrounds our planet. You should try to avoid products with the following kinds of chemicals:

  • Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)
  • Halons
  • Carbon tetrachloride
  • Methyl chloroform
  • Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs)
  • Methyl bromide

Vendors
Green Seal’s preferable product list contains several less harmful options for a range of product categories. You may also want to consult EPA’s Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Database, which contains product specifications and contract language for a wide variety of additional products. The Responsible Purchasing Network is another resource.

Sample Letter To Current Suppliers

Dear _______,

[Our theatre] has initiated an effort to improve our environmental performance in all aspects of our operations. We would like to meet with you to discuss these objectives in more detail. We would also like to discuss ways to cost-effectively switch to products within the next few years that do not contribute to the depletion the ozone layer.

We would like to reduce as much as possible the harmful effects associated with our operations, and we would like to speak with you to ensure that the products we are purchasing do not contribute to this problem.

Please call me at your earliest convenience so that we can organize a meeting to pursue this discussion.

Environmental Benefits
Beneficial atmospheric ozone – as opposed to harmful ground-level ozone – filters out ultraviolet radiation from the sun that can cause cancer. Many products, such as refrigerants and aerosols, were once made with compounds that destroyed ozone when they were released into the atmosphere. In 1985, scientists discovered that concentrations of ozone in the atmosphere were falling rapidly, especially near the poles. This drop has since been attributed to ozone depleting substances such as CFCs and HCFCs. Although the Montreal Protocol treaty has greatly reduced the use of CFCs, some products in some countries are still made with these harmful chemicals.

Additional Resources On Ozone Depletion

 

Cleaning & Maintenance Products and Services

Many common cleaning and maintenance products contain chemicals that are potentially harmful to human health and the environment. Consider consulting with your venue’s suppliers about less toxic alternatives to the cleaning products you currently buy. You may also wish to incorporate specifications for less toxic products in contracts and requests for proposals. Also consider reusable cleaning cloths and dilution centers, which cut down on waste and save money. The sample letter and contract specifications below should serve as a useful guide. For listings of green cleaning contractors, visit Green America’s National Green Pages.

Product Specifications

Cleaning and maintenance products can contain a wide variety of compounds that can adversely impact the health of employees and facility occupants. Use the following resources to find out which cleaning products are right for your organization.

Green Seal Products and Services
Environmental Health Association of Nova Scotia
Department of the Interior Request for Proposals for Janitorial Products
Vendors
For listings of preferable cleaning products, visit the Green Seal database. The EPA’s Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Database, which contains product specifications and contract language for a wide variety of additional products, is another useful resource, as is the Responsible Purchasing Network.

De-icing Products
Many de-icers contain toxic ingredients like glycol or corrosive salts that are not only harmful to the environment, but threaten the health of pets and children. When de-icing sidewalks, avoid sodium chloride (“ice-salt”) or carbonyl diamide (urea), which are corrosive, and can damage vegetation, irritate skin and be toxic to pets and children.

The best way to avoid toxic de-icers is to use other materials to create traction. A good choice is gravel, which is inexpensive, non-toxic, and easy to spread. Sand is another option, though it should be cleaned up once ice has melted to prevent the sand running off into waterways and causing sedimentation.

If you do need to purchase a de-icing product, look for non-toxic, non-corrosive, and biodegradable de-icers. Choose the least toxic option available for your needs, and apply as little as possible.  Products containing calcium magnesium acetate (CMA) or potassium acetate (KA) are less toxic alternatives to sodium chloride and other chloride salts.

Shoveling snow before it accumulates will also help make de-icers more effective, reducing the amount of de-icer needed.

For more information about safer de-icing products, visit NRDC Smarter Living: Safe De-icers for You and Your Pets and This Green Life: The Safe Road in Winter.  Also refer to the EPA’s list of approved deicers.

Greener De-icing Products

Sample Letter To Current Suppliers

Dear _______,

[Our theatre] has initiated an effort to improve our environmental performance in all aspects of our operations. We would like to meet with you to discuss these objectives in more detail. We would also like to discuss ways to cost-effectively switch to less toxic and harmful products within the next few years.

We would like to reduce as much as possible the harmful effects on the environment and public health that are associated with our operations, and we would like to speak with you about less harmful alternatives to the products that we are currently using.

Please call me at your earliest convenience so that we can we can organize a meeting to pursue this discussion.
Environmental Benefits
Purchasing less toxic products helps protect public health and the environment. Almost all commonly used cleaning and maintenance products contain hazardous chemicals that can cause serious health effects, including respiratory ailments, skin irritation, neurological disorders, and even cancer. In addition to the human effects, many of these products – or their byproducts – can harm aquatic life and other species.

Additional Resources

 

Pesticides and Fertilizers

Pesticides and fertilizers can cause a variety of harmful impacts on public health and the environment. Consider consulting with your venue’s suppliers to determine if there are less toxic alternatives to the products that you are currently using.

Reducing your venue’s use of pesticides and fertilizers can also save money. Consider adopting the principles of integrated pest management (IPM) outlined below, to prevent infestations before they start.

Reducing Pesticides and Fertilizers Can Save Money

It is possible to have healthy, great-looking plants and grass while minimizing the use of harmful pesticides and fertilizers. Minimizing the use of these chemicals means that your venue doesn’t need to purchase them as often, saving your time and money.

Many schools across the country have adopted integrated pest management (IPM) techniques to reduce child exposure to harmful pesticides. In Montgomery County, Maryland, for example, the school district reduced the number of pesticide applications from 5,000 in 1985 to zero in 1989 using IPM techniques. This reduction yielded an annual savings of $1800 per school. Monroe County schools in Indiana reduced their pest management costs by over $13,000 per year through IPM. Case Studies

Pesticides

Consider asking your current pest control suppliers to become certified under the Green Shield Certified Program, which certifies environmentally preferable pest control companies. For more information on Green Shield, contact ipmworks@ipminstitute.org.

Integrated Pest Management

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is an approach to pest management that incorporates aspects of a facility’s operation to help reduce the need for pesticides. IPM means preventing infestations before they start, and using pesticides only when necessary. There are various approaches that your venue can adopt to decrease its reliance on chemical-based pest control. Consider the steps below, and consult the additional resources at the end of this section for more information.

  • Use native plants, trees, and grasses
  • Fill cracks in walls and pavement
  • Keep vegetation at least 1 foot away from structures
  • Clean food-contaminated dishes right away
  • Clean garbage cans often
  • Keep compost bins properly maintained

Consult the resources below for more information on IPM. Though many of the guides below are aimed at schools, the principles can be applied to other buildings and businesses.

  • EPA – Integrated Pest Management for Schools
  • University of California Statewide IPM Program
  • Green Shield Certified Program
  • PAN Pesticides Database – Alternatives to Pesticides

Pesticide Product Specifications
There is a wide range of pesticide chemicals, and most of them are potentially harmful to public health and the environment. The best strategy is to reduce the amount of pesticides your organization uses. Still, there are some pesticides that are less harmful than others. Consider avoiding pesticides that are classified as carcinogens, reproductive or developmental toxins, endocrine disruptors, or neurotoxins.

EPA categorizes pesticide products by toxicity on a scale of I – IV, with the lowest numerals indicating the most toxic products. Consider buying products that are categorized as III or IV, and avoid those that are categorized as I or II. Categories III and IV are labeled with the word “Caution”, while Category II products carry the label “Warning”, and Category I products are labeled “Danger”.

Sample Letter To Current Suppliers

Dear _______,

[Our theatre] has initiated an effort to improve our environmental performance in all aspects of our operations. We would like to meet with you to discuss these objectives in more detail. We would also like to discuss ways to cost-effectively switch to less-toxic products within the next few years.

We would like to reduce as much as possible the harmful effects on the environment and public health that are associated with our operations, and we would like to speak with you to ensure that the products we are purchasing do not contribute to these problems. In particular, we would like to talk with you about Green Shield certification, a program that certifies environmentally preferable pest control companies.

Please call me at your earliest convenience so that we can organize a meeting to pursue this discussion.

Fertilizers

Consider consulting with your venue’s current suppliers to determine if there are less harmful alternatives to the fertilizer products that you are currently using.

Minimizing the use of fertilizers is also important and can save your venue money. Review the tips and resources below to learn more about reducing your venue’s use of fertilizer.

Fertilizer Use Reduction Tips

  • Plant native vegetation species
  • Use compost instead of chemical fertilizers
  • Plant low-maintenance vegetation
  • Do not use more fertilizer than is recommended on the label
  • Consult with your suppliers and groundskeepers concerning grass mixtures and plants that will thrive in your area with minimal fertilizer

Sample Letter To Current Suppliers

Dear _______,

[Our theatre] has initiated an effort to improve our environmental performance in all aspects of our operations. We would like to meet with you to discuss these objectives in more detail. We would also like to discuss ways to cost-effectively switch to less harmful products as soon as possible.

We would like to reduce as much as possible the harmful effects on the environment and public health that are associated with our operations, and we would like to speak with you to ensure that the products we are purchasing do not contribute to these problems.

Please call me at your earliest convenience so that we can organize a meeting to pursue this discussion.

Environmental Benefits

Pesticides and fertilizers can harm public health and the environment. Many pesticides contain potentially toxic chemicals that can cause negative health effects such as cancer and neurological and reproductive disorders. In addition, pesticides can migrate into lakes and streams as they are swept away when it rains. Fertilizers contain phosphorous and nitrogen compounds, important nutrients that aid plant growth. Unfortunately, too much of these compounds is a bad thing, especially in aquatic environments. When aquatic environments are loaded with nitrogen and phosphorous, algae in the water grows at a rapid pace. When this algae decomposes, it causes a significant drop in oxygen concentrations, killing fish and other aquatic organisms. This process is called eutrophication. By reducing your venue’s use of pesticides and fertilizers, and by buying less toxic products, you help to reduce these risks.

Additional Resources

  • Green Shield Certified Program
  • Beyond Pesticides
  • Fact Sheets for individual pesticides
  • Pesticide Alternatives
  • EPA Environmentally Preferable Purchasing – Landscaping Products
  • EPA – Pesticides
  • EPA – Fact sheets on specific pesticides
  • Pesticide Action Network
  • Pesticide Education Center
  • National Institute of Health – ToxNet
  • Pennsylvania Integrated Pest Management
  • New York State IPM for Buildings
  • USDA CSREES Program – Pesticides