Teachers and staff of the Philadelphia School District are worried that the district bought a less effective, non-alcohol-based hand sanitizer in bulk as part of its effort to cope with the threat of coronavirus.
Leaders of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, the union for teachers, said the district had recently equipped facilities with a sanitizer, foamyiQ Lemon Blossom, that is not alcohol-based, even though the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the use of alcohol-based products.
The district said going with an alcohol-based product posed risks of its own.
“Due to safety and health hazards associated with alcohol-based products, such as substances being flammable and poisonous if ingested, the School District of Philadelphia moved away from using alcohol-based products in schools several years ago,” a district spokesperson, Monica Lewis, said in a statement.
Hillary Linardopoulos, the PFT’s legislative representative, met with district administrators Wednesday and was assured that the Lemon Blossom product worked as well as alcohol-based sanitizers. Linardopoulos said the union was not convinced.
On its website, the CDC urges people to wash their hands often. “If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol,” the agency advises.
Lewis, the district’s spokesperson, said it had made the right choice.
“The product we have placed in the schools is an effective alternative as part of an overall program of hand washing and building cleaning,” her statement said.
“The cleaning supplies used to aggressively wipe down high-touch items such as door knobs and stairwells several times throughout the day are products that have been approved to combat a number of infectious diseases, including COVID-19.”
Linardopoulos said the union was not persuaded that the district had chosen the right cleaner.
“Our concern remains," she said. “And we have yet to see any evidence that it is as effective as alcohol-based sanitizers.”
Representatives of Spartan Chemical Co., the Ohio-based maker of foamyIQ Lemon Blossom sanitizer, did not return calls seeking comment Wednesday. The active ingredient in its product is benzalkonium chloride.
Linardopoulos said the district had ordered foamyiQ Lemon Blossion in bulk and that it had been delivered to some of the system’s more than 200 facilities earlier this week.
However, staff around the city reported that while some schools have supplies, others have received none or received not enough to cover all students and staff.
At schools that did receive supplies, several employees quickly contacted the union with concerns about the product, according to Ben Bowens, PFT spokesperson.
“We just want to make sure our members are OK and obviously that our students are OK,” Bowen said.
While washing with soap appeared to be the preferred cleaning method under the CDC guidelines, she said that was not always practical or would cause disruptive breaks in classroom routines.