2011 Healthy Schools Hero Dr. Dwight Peavey

Dwight Peavey, PhD Senior Scientist, US EPA Region 1, School Friend, Educator, and Green Chemistry Ambassador

Extraordinary responsibility and inspirational leadership

Dr. Dwight Peavey is the 2011 Healthy School Hero for his extraordinary leadership and the ongoing partnerships he creates with Massachusetts K-12 schools.  He provides true chemical security while saving schools thousands of dollars in hazardous chemical removal and disposal.  And he promotes a safer green chemistry curriculum that teaches students the values and technical skills to live safely with 21st century chemicals and technology.       

Massachusetts is one of six states where schools are not required to have a chemical hygiene program. Nor is it an OSHA state.  So Dr. Peavey's success in reducing hazards in schools is attributable to his initiative and unique dedication as well as his expertise and interpersonal skills. 

"During my watch, no harm should come to a child." says Dr. Peavey. "When a child or a teacher goes to school, he should come home in the same condition he went there."

Meet Dr. Dwight Peavey

Nicole Starman, Office of Environmental Stewardship, U.S. EPA-Region 1 wrote:  “Dwight Peavey’s integrated chemical management program has cleaned up and cleaned out hundreds of pounds of toxic chemicals in over 40 different schools making them a less hazardous place for children and staff throughout New England.  When he sees a problem he corrects it.  He doesn’t walk away and leave it that way…If the school doesn't have a certain item, such as lips on a shelf to prevent spillage, Dwight will construct them himself.  He makes sure that the school has safe flammable and hazardous storage and that there is no risk to anyone whatsoever.  This program is done free of cost to the school.  Dwight and his team put their heart and soul into this project because no child should be exposed to an unnecessary and easily preventable risk.  Please consider Dwight to be your 2011 Hero.”  

“Dwight Peavey is an exceptional public servant,” writes Rick Reibstein, Manager, Outreach and Policy, Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. “More than anyone I know he has inspired others, through persuasion and actual demonstration, to understand how chemicals should be used and chemistry should be taught, with proper respect for safety and the environment.  If his example were better known, and more similar efforts funded, schools would have far lower waste costs and students a far better education.” 

Dr. David Lyons writes, "As a public school science director, and former president of the North Shore Science Supervisor's Association, I have a tremendous amount of information relative to the great things that Dwight Peavey has done in schools throughout Massachusetts.
  • In Revere, Dwight and his team revolutionized how chemicals were stored, used and disposed of. He made Revere High School safer for everyone! Teachers continually tell me how much they have learned from Dwight (in the use of chemicals), and how he continues to be a resource for them.
  • Science directors from Saugus to Somerville routinely tell me how their jobs are so much easier because Dwight has established a safety protocol in their high schools which has not only saved money, but made for a better environment for everyone.
  • Lastly, when Dwight finished working at Greater Lawrence Technical High School, he said to me, " I sleep well at night knowing I have helped teachers and students work in a safer environment!"
Personally, I can think of no more worthy recipient of the award than Dwight Peavey!" 

Have Van, Will Travel

“Schools have tons of hazardous chemicals,” says Peavey, “because teachers save everything.  And they order more chemicals every year.  They don’t know what they have or what to do with it.  Another problem is that students have access to chemicals they can use to create a bomb, poison someone, or commit suicide.  (MMWR November 7, 2008 / 57(44);1197-1200  Hazardous Chemical Incidents in Schools, United States, 2002—2007.)

Peavey’s on-site assistance helps schools get rid of thousands of containers of outdated, hazardous, toxic and highly reactive chemicals.  He surveys every classroom to find, identify, segregate and consolidate chemicals for cost effective disposal.  He removes all mercury – for example 390 mercury thermometers in one school and 209 thermometers at another school. The amount of hazardous waste eliminated at one high school was more than 3,000 pounds.  

Peavey and his team help schools create a secure storage area and a pharmacy-like chemical real time inventory system to avoid unnecessary re-ordering and expensive specialized storage.  He gives usable surplus chemicals to needy schools, saving both systems money.  He works with science teachers and staff to transition from using toxic and hazardous chemicals to benign and green chemistry so they are teaching safely and teaching safety. 

Peter Swanson, Former Teacher and Department Chair at Quincy High School writes, "Because of Dwight's commitment to Green Chemistry, he helped us get funding for a BeyondBenign summer program.  Never in my thirty-year career have I ever been involve in such a powerful program."  (Read more below.)

Peavey also helps manage chemicals when schools are renovating or moving to a new building. Peavey advises, “You shouldn’t take old problems into a new school.”

Peavey doesn’t use a pre-printed manual or checklist.  He advises, “Unless you develop a chemical management plan that is specific for your teaching, your curriculum, your school, it won’t be used.  It will be on a shelf collecting dust. If staff create it for themselves, they know it and they own it.”  Peavey builds in his own style of accountability requiring schools to agree that he can drop in for a visit anytime to see how the program is working.

Dwight Peavey, Friend of Schools

Peavey meets many new science coordinators and new teachers who see that they’ve inherited a problem.  New teachers often find no chemical inventory and old chemicals and unidentified containers throughout the building in closets, classrooms, storerooms and basement areas, and mercury.  Most teachers don’t know that they’re also violating RCRA (The federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) of 1976 and the Hazardous and Solid Waste Amendments (HSWA) of 1984.)

Dr. Peavey knows it is hard for schools to raise their hand and say ‘we have a problem.’  Peavey is expert at soothing fears and overcoming reluctance to address hazards.  His leadership creates a culture of responsibility through his hands-on technical assistance and ongoing support as well as his teaching and outreach. 

Theresa O’Neill is Director of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) in Hanover, MA where they are getting ready to move into a new high school.  She was referred to Dr. Peavey from a colleague.  “The minute Dwight came in we felt we were in professional expert hands,” says O’Neill. “He immediately created a sense of partnership.   His team was here for three full days during vacation.  They identified and consolidated the chemicals.  They set up an excel spreadsheet that we all use to see what we have.  Thanks to Dwight’s personal touch, we all now share a sense of responsibility for the system.  And he has been back a couple of times to talk to staff about cleaning chemicals, toxic waste and health. ” 

Robert Czerwinski, Acting Fire Chief in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, encourages schools not to be afraid of asking for help.  “Welcome Peavey’s team in with open arms.  They are here to help.  In a time when budgets are shirking, this is one program that brings benefits four-fold to the community.  The state doesn’t have the program or the resources.  If you had to call in a Hazardous Waste Contractor it would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.”(Read more below.)
Dwight Peavey, Teacher and Green Chemistry Ambassador

Peavey is also a Visiting Scholar in Chemistry at Brandeis University. He teaches two courses on Green Chemistry and Sustainability,  “Solving Environmental Challenges: The Role of Chemistry” and “Understanding the Chemistry of Sustainability.”  Dr. Peavey says he especially likes to teach principles of toxicology to non-science majors because they are the administrators and purchasing agents who will be the future decision makers in schools, organizations and communities.

His recent presentations include “Moving Schools to Safe, Green and Sustainable Solutions” at the New England Green Chemistry Networking Forum, December 2010 and “Breaking the toxic addiction: Moving schools to sustainable, green chemistry” at the 2010 American Chemical Society 14th Annual Green Chemistry and Engineering Conference.  Listen to this entertaining presentation online and see photos of school conditions: Click here.

What would bring safer science to more schools?  

Dr. Peavey Dwight would like to see school accreditation require a chemical management plan and a “gatekeeper” who is personally accountable for safety in every school.

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