Safety first for Decatur labs

Decatur High School became just the second school in the country to receive an award from the Environmental Protection Agency for eliminating dangerous and improperly stored chemicals.

“Any program with dual safety and ecology is paramount,” said Decatur principal Tom Leacy, whose school was honored Oct. 24 by the EPA. “Safety and education go hand in hand.”

The school began its effort in 2002, working with the Local Hazardous Waste Management Program’s Rehab the Lab to clean up its chemistry labs as well as art and shop classes.

Over the course of this cleanup, Decatur inventoried and removed 2,905 pounds of chemicals that were no longer useful — more than any other school in the district.

“The Local Hazardous Waste Management Program in King County and Federal Way Public Schools are at the forefront of responsible chemical management,” said Elin Miller, EPA regional administrator, in a news release. “Together, SC3 (Schools Chemical Cleanout Campaign) partners, programs like LHWMP and schools like Decatur High School are taking proactive steps to keep our schools safe, so our children can learn and grow into tomorrow’s leaders.”

The district spent $210,000 on improvements to the safety of the schools, said Diana Seeley, director of risk management for Federal Way Public Schools. The money went toward cleanup as well as goggles, aprons, hoods and other lab items. Rehab the Lab funded 100 percent of the initial removal of chemicals, Seeley said.

During a three-year period, the Rehab the Lab program removed more than 39.5 tons of hazardous materials from schools across King County.

“The work you have done has inspired schools around the country,” Miller said.

The schools in Federal Way now use micro labs, which require just droplets of the chemicals instead of the beakerful that was used previously. The chemical reactions are studied on 8x10 pieces of plastic-covered paper.

These labs give the students a more hands-on experience and are excellent for watching chemical reactions, said Leacy, but require fewer chemicals in each experiment.

“Students love it,” Leacy said.

Decatur caught the attention of the EPA through a combination of the cleanup and

the school’s work in creating cleaner classrooms and labs.

“The district is now serving as the EPA model,” Superintendent Tom Murphy said.

Decatur senior Nate Chusid, 17, was the student speaker at Wednesday’s event and opened the presentation. Chusid was also recognized for his work in revising the emergency evacuation route for the school, among other things.

“It was great to have a moment to celebrate, but the work continues,” Leacy said.

Contact Kyra Low: or (253) 925-5565.

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