Cleaning Product Report Coming Back to GECDSB Trustees

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Trustees with the Greater Essex County District School Board have asked administration to provide more details on the use of quat-based cleaning solutions within schools.

A report will be brought back to the board in March after parents raised concerns over the safety of a disinfectant used in schools called Virex. Quaternary ammonium or quats, can be found in everything from window cleaners and disinfectants to baby lotions and dryer sheets and is deemed safe when used as instructed by Health Canada.

Quat-based disinfectants are required to clean certain surfaces at schools and restaurants under provincial and federal legislation, according to Health and Safety Officer Tim Lauzon.

Trustee Sarah Cipkar says the board is seeking more information on what it would look like to make a switch where possible.

"There was still a desire to see if we could have any other cleaning supplies that might be a little safer over the long term and just to see what some of the options would be," says Cipkar.  

An expert pointed to observations where mice experienced fertility issues when exposed to quats. The study published in 2015 indicates mice did experience issues with reproduction, but pointed to the method of exposure as a possible factor.

The study said,  “although preliminary findings from both laboratories suggested that QAC exposure adversely affects reproduction, they did not provide insight to the route of exposure. That is, cage contamination could result in transdermal exposure from contaminated bedding, oral exposure from consumption of contaminated food and water, or even respiratory exposure from aerosolization of the disinfectant used during animal handling and cage change."

A further study in 2017 found, "increased human exposure and the scarcity of human data, coupled with observed rodent toxicity, all advocate for immediate study of the effects of QACs exposure on human health and development."

But toxicologist Kieth Hostetler contests the study failed to show a link between what was found in mice to humans.

He goes  on to say the findings are," irrelevant for human health, because they tested high doses of quats that humans aren’t typically exposed to. Because quats are so effective against microorganisms, they are typically formulated at low concentrations, around 0.1 per cent by mass in a solution."

There is an ongoing study into the affects long term exposure to the chemical could have on humans that has yet to be peer reviewed.

Lauzon addressed these issues with the board and says the chemical is never aerosolized and is only used as instructed.

Cipkar says there is still some "compelling evidence" the product could have some long-term health effects if it's not used properly.

"Our administration did outline the ways this was used and it's used totally safely within Health Canada guidelines and the health unit also commented on the fact that they believe that it's being used correctly and it's appropriate," says Cipkar.       

She says some school boards have moved away from the cleaning product.

"There were compelling reason to suggest that both people in our community, constituents would like to explore what it would mean to switch and to switch us as quickly as possible and also within the province as well," says Cipkar.     

When used improperly the chemical can aggravate asthma, cause skin irritation and many other side effects typically associated with cleaning products.

Quat-based products are being used 25 per cent more in Essex County schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the board's Health and Safety Committee.

— with files from AM800's Rob Hind