Schools Newsletter - EH: Minnesota Department of Health

School Environmental Health Newsletter - Summer 2014

UV Protection in Minnesota Schools

According to the U.S. EPA, the number of new melanoma diagnoses is rising faster than any other cancer in Minnesota1. The largest risk factor for all skin cancers remains excessive UV exposure and sunburns—particularly during childhood. Good habits start early, and for this reason UV Protection is an important topic to be addressed in a school’s comprehensive environmental health plan. According to MDH’s recent survey of Minnesota school districts, only 10% of respondents indicated that they included UV protection in their school’s environmental health plan, making it the least implemented environmental health component. The good news is that the EPA can help make it easy (and free) to bring the topic to your school with the SunWise program.

SunWise is a free collection of cross-curriculum learning activities for grades K-8 that focuses on the science and health effects of UV radiation, and promotes actions kids can take to avoid sun damage. The ultimate goal of the activities is to encourage children to be SunWise and to form good habits early to reduce exposure to UV. An EPA evaluation2 of the program showed that teachers were able to bring about changes in student sun protection behavior by spending as little as 1-2 hours each year promoting safe sun behaviors. SunWise Behaviors include:

  • Don’t Burn
  • Avoid sunbathing and using tanning beds
  • Use sunscreen
  • Wear protective clothing
  • Seek Shade
  • Use extra caution near water, snow and sand where sun rays are reflected
  • Watch for the UV Index
  • Get Vitamin D safely through diet—not from the sun

Each kit includes classroom lessons and supplies, tools for tracking and reporting the UV Index, and a UV-sensitive Frisbee for experiments. The kits are designed to be shared throughout a school and contain “Train-the-Trainer” materials. Better yet, the activities are designed to be flexible and to fit into what teachers are already doing in the classroom.  Schools interested in bringing the SunWise Program to their curriculum can request materials and more information at EPA:SunWise
A link can also be found at the MDH School Environmental Health Portal.

1 EPA-430-F-10-030, Facts About: Skin Cancer Minnesota. Published March 2011.
2 EPA-430-F-08-007, The U.S. EPA’s SunWise Program. Published May 2008.

Watch out for Ticks and Mosquitoes

Heading outside during Minnesota’s warm seasons can result in exposure to ticks and mosquitoes and the diseases they carry.

The most common tick-borne disease in Minnesota is Lyme disease, which is carried by blacklegged ticks (“deer ticks”). These ticks are found in the wooded or brushy areas of north-central, central, eastern, and southeastern Minnesota. Risks are greatest in late spring and early summer. Lyme disease can affect people of any age group. It often, but not always, starts as an expanding red rash that may develop a “bulls-eye” appearance or spread to other parts of the body. Some people may also experience symptoms like fevers or muscle and joint aches. In more severe cases, Lyme disease can cause facial paralysis (Bell’s palsy), swollen joints, or meningitis. Blacklegged ticks also carry anaplasmosis, babesiosis, and Powassan virus disease, which may also begin with fevers, headaches, and muscle aches. In addition, a small number of Rocky Mountain spotted fever cases have occurred in Minnesota. This disease is carried by the American dog tick (“wood tick”), which is common in grassy or woody areas.

Mosquitoes are also a problem in Minnesota as they may carry diseases like West Nile virus (WNV) or La Crosse (LAC) encephalitis virus. For WNV, risk is greatest around dusk and dawn from midsummer to early fall in the open areas of western and southwestern Minnesota. WNV can cause a high fever, headaches, and body aches, and sometimes swelling of the brain, but the majority of people never have symptoms. Children are more vulnerable to LAC encephalitis. The symptoms are similar to WNV, but it is more likely to cause severe disease and is carried by a daytime-biting mosquito. For La Crosse encephalitis, risk is greatest for children playing in the woods from mid- to late-summer in the southern third of the state. 

The best way to prevent diseases from ticks and mosquitoes is to regularly apply repellent containing DEET whenever you are outside. Clothing can also be pre-treated with permethrin, another repellent. Staying toward the center of trails can minimize exposure to ticks, and wearing long, light-colored pants can make it easier to spot ticks before they have a chance to bite. After coming in from outdoors, performing a thorough tick check is important. If any signs or symptoms (e.g., rash, fever, headache, muscle/joint pain, or other non-respiratory “flulike” symptoms) of tick- or mosquito-borne disease develop within 2-4 weeks of possible exposure, seek medical care.

For more information on preventing tick- and mosquito-borne diseases and to see our latest risk map, visit Vector- borne Diseases

Results: School Environmental Health Survey

This spring, the Minnesota Department of Health mailed surveys to nearly 500 public school districts in an effort to better determine the level of implementation of environmental health programs in schools. After reviewing the responses, we are happy to report that we received information back from about 46% of school districts. These responses represent roughly 932 school buildings and nearly 400,000 school children in the state of Minnesota.

Of the respondents, 77% of school districts reported that they have implemented a comprehensive environmental health program in their district. The questionnaire also sought to determine what topics districts are addressing in their programs. Of the 17 components listed in the survey, the average district had addressed 9 in their program. The most commonly adopted components included blood borne pathogens (79%), chemical safety (77%), indoor air quality (75%) and asbestos (75%). The most infrequently included components were radon (17%), green cleaning (17%) and UV protection (10%).

Most districts (77%) have at least one staff member with dedicated environmental health and safety responsibilities, and even more (82%) have established an environmental health and safety committee for their district. About one-third of school districts (31%) have chosen to involve students in elements of their health and safety plan.

Overall, the results demonstrate that Minnesota school districts are making progress towards improving or maintaining environmental health in their schools. As a reminder, MDH is available to provide technical assistance to schools assembling comprehensive environmental health and safety programs. Technical assistance is available to public schools, including charter schools, as well as non-public schools.

Summer Carpet Maintenance

Regular and effective cleaning and maintenance is essential to keeping carpeted floors healthy. Not only does carpet need frequent vacuuming, it also requires periodic wet extraction cleaning to remove accumulated dirt and debris. While wet extraction cleaning isn’t particularly difficult, it is a time consuming process that disrupts building occupants. For this reason, custodial staff often use the summer break to perform these tasks. While it is logistically a sound plan, the increased temperature and humidity of the summer season require additional vigilance on the part of custodians to ensure that mold growth is kept in check.

It’s critical to carefully follow the manufacturer’s specifications for both the carpet and the extraction equipment. Generally, prior to extraction, it is recommended that the carpet is thoroughly vacuumed to remove dust and debris. During extraction, it’s important to maintain the temperature of the water. These steps should improve cleaning and reduce the amount of water and cleaning products used, thereby reducing the risk of mold growth.

According to the Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC), carpets cleaned with wet extraction should be dried in less than 24 hours. Carpet allowed to remain wet for more than 24 hours can easily become a breeding ground for mold. If a building’s HVAC system is running normally with low indoor humidity and normal indoor temperatures, carpet should dry with in the 24 hour timeframe. However, many schools in Minnesota either lack air conditioning or simply choose not to use it at normal levels when buildings are unoccupied for the summer. Custodial staff need to consider the temperature and humidity within the building before embarking upon any carpet cleaning in the summer months. If possible, use the HVAC system to reduce indoor humidity. Consider using auxiliary fans to increase air movement and commercial dehumidifiers with wet carpets to speed up the drying process. If available, a moisture meter could be used to assess how quickly drying is occurring and relocate fans and dehumidifiers. Consider moving routine wet extraction cleanings to early summer, or, better yet, a winter or fall break to take advantage of lower humidity levels.

Green Ribbon Schools Application

Be rewarded for your school’s efforts at being “green.” The Green Ribbon Schools Award from the US Department of Energy recognizes schools and districts that are exemplary in all three of the following areas:
• Reducing environmental impact
• Improving health and wellness
• Providing effective environmental education
Awardees receive a plaque and a flag for the school, local recognition, and an invitation to the national ceremony in Washington, DC.

Applying for the award provides an opportunity to analyze energy and water usage, waste reduction and transportation. Schools review the strategies that promote healthy practices by students and teachers. In addition, teachers examine their curriculum for instruction in environmental concepts, skills and careers. In the process members from various sectors of the school community collaborate to improve their efforts toward sustainability.

Information about the program is at the Green Ribbon Schools website. For the application and local details, got to the MDE Green Ribbon Schools webpage, or contact

Contact the Indoor Air Unit for more information:
or toll free 800-798-9050

School Environmental Health Newsletter - Spring 2014
School Environmental Health Newsletter - Summer 2013
School Environmental Health Newsletter - Fall 2013
School Environmental Health Newsletter - Winter 2013

Updated Monday, October 19, 2015 at 08:19AM