Healthy Green Campus

green campus

Healthy Green Campus Project

Principal Investigator: Robin Dodson, M.S., Sc.D.

This project’s goal is to incorporate health, specifically health related to chemical exposures, into the sustainability movement taking place in higher education. We will partner with sustainability leaders on an institutional level as well as student leaders to elevate awareness to chemical exposures. This project leverages a substantial investment by The John Merck Fund to support collaboration with faculty, students, and sustainability offices at Harvard University and Westfield State University to identify chemicals of concern in the indoor collegiate environment. We will guide Harvard’s purchasing for dorm renovations and work to revise their Green Building Standards and their Sustainability Strategic Plan to include criteria around material selection. The proposed project will serve as a working model to support education and outreach to other campuses through a new website and higher education networks. To start, the project will focus on flame retardants, which are priority chemicals in MA because of the unique flammability standards compelling their use. We propose to measure chemicals in the student’s academic and living environment, with a specific focus on the levels and types of flame retardants found in dust as they relate to flammability standards. The results will inform institutional purchasing and provide a first glimpse at chemical exposures in higher education.


Research Activities

Flame retardant chemicals in college dorms

In the spring 2015 semester, we collected 95 dust samples from dormitory common rooms and student rooms on two New England college campuses adhering to two different furniture flammability standards: Technical Bulletin 117 and Technical Bulletin 133.  We found all 47 targeted flame retardant chemicals, including polybrominated diphenyl ether congeners, other brominated flame retardants, phosphorous flame retardants, dechlorane plus and hexabromocylododecane.  Research findings were recently published in Environmental Science & Technology.

Chemicals in indoor air in paired vacant and occupied student dorm rooms

We collected volatile organic compound (VOC), aldehyde (e.g. formaldehyde), and semivolatile organic compound (SVOC) indoor air samples in 9 locations in 3 residence halls at different stages of renovation. Our goal is to evaluate the impact of renovations status – newly built versus older construction – on exposure levels in college dorms.



Dodson, R.E., K.M. Rodgers, G. Carey, J.G. Cedeno Laurent, A. Covaci, G. Poma, G. Malarvannan, J.D. Spengler, R.A. Rudel, J.G. Allen. 2017. Flame Retardant Chemicals in College Dormitories: Flammability Standards Influence Dust Concentrations.Environmental Science & Technologydoi:10.1021/acs.est.7b00429  

Associated Press

WBUR: “Why College Students Really Should Vacuum (It’s About Health, Not Disgusting Dustballs)”

Newsweek: “Record Levels of Toxic Flame Retardants Found in College Dorms” 



Rodgers, K.M. “The Healthy Green Campus: Using Evidence Based Approaches to Integrate Human Health and Well-being into Campus Sustainability.” Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education Annual Conference. Minneapolis, MN. October 2015.

Dodson, R.E., Rodgers, K.M., Allen, J.G., Laurent, J.G.C., Covaci, A., Poma, G., Malarvannan, G., Rudel, R.A., Carey, G. “Flame retardants on two college campuses: Impact of flammability standards on concentrations in residential dust and student blood.” Brominated Flame Retardants (BFR) Annual Conference. Toronto, ON. May 2016.

Dodson, R.E., Rodgers, K.M., Allen, J.G., Laurent, J.G.C., Covaci, A., Poma, G., Malarvannan, G., Rudel, R.A., Carey, G.  “Flammability Standards Impact Flame Retardant Concentrations in Dust.” International Society for Exposure Science Annual Conference.  Utrecht, Netherlands. October 2016.