Kennewick School District works to cleanse schools of sanitizer

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldSeptember 8, 2012 

Parents sending their students to school with a small bottle of hand sanitizer to clean up before lunch, after recess or during other messy activities might see the bottles returned home.

The Kennewick School District is working to remove hand sanitizer products from classrooms. The district doesn't provide the sanitizer, but they are brought in by teachers and students.

Officials said the sanitizers pose a potential risk to some students and their use has a tendency to lead to less handwashing.

Some parents say they are just perplexed about how important the issue really is.

"It's a lot of fuss for not a lot of result," said Ronn Campbell, president of the parent-teacher organization at Canyon View Elementary School.

Pasco and Richland school officials say it's not an issue they are reviewing right now.

The Kennewick district began looking at hand sanitizer use in schools last spring during an audit of custodial chemicals and how various cleaners are used in schools.

Mollie Lutz, the district's safety coordinator, said the district is responsible for any chemicals brought in and used in schools. Hand sanitizers do have warning labels, specifically saying they should not be used by young children, and health officials say they shouldn't replace proper handwashing.

"Because we cannot guarantee the product that is being used, how it is being used and is not consistent with the guidelines for disease control ... it should not be used since there is access to soap and water in all of our schools," Lutz said in an email.

The most effective sanitizers are 65 percent alcohol, a substance that should be kept away from children, district officials said.

The Associated Press reported last month that three teens from Salem were sentenced to juvenile detention and to pay restitution after they caused $6 million in damage to their school caused by playing with hand sanitizer and a lighter. There also have been reports nationwide of children using hand sanitizer to get drunk from their alcohol content, leading to poisonings.

Sanitizers with lower alcohol levels are available but aren't as effective, specifically when it comes to killing some viruses and parasites.

Amy Person, health district officer for the Benton Franklin Health District, said it's true that weaker hand sanitizers aren't as effective and that children should be monitored when using it. And she agreed proper handwashing is the most effective way to prevent infection.

However, she said she wasn't aware of any concerns that people who use hand sanitizer rely on it too much. She said it isn't a bad thing if used as a stopgap measure, such as when soap and water isn't immediately available.

Hand sanitizer is provided in Pasco and Richland schools. In Richland, it's available in portable classrooms without sinks and outside school computer labs to help prevent germs spreading via keyboards.

Leslee Caul, Pasco School District spokeswoman, said some hand sanitizer is provided to teachers and students, but on a limited basis, and building administrators determine how much is purchased.

"They're not a substitute for handwashing," Caul said.

Campbell said the district's decision to remove hand sanitizer was brought up to him by several parents at Canyon View. He since has met with the school's principal about it, and it will be a topic at the PTO meeting next week.

"I don't think (parents) are not happy, just confused," he said. "They wonder why it's an issue."

He said he's done some of his own research into the matter and noted that labels on those products indicate they shouldn't be used by small children.

Other concerns, he said, sounded minimal, and he wondered about the logistics of having a class of 25 or more students going to the nearest sink after messy activities.

Kennewick district spokeswoman Lorraine Cooper said the district doesn't "have any hand sanitizer police out there" and that removing the products from schools will be gradual.

However, the district is working to educate teachers, students and parents about the new policy and provide other products, such as desk cleaners and wipes, to help with keeping schools clean.

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