St. Paul School District bleach ban raises infectious disease fears

Banned by the Saint Paul School District
Banned by the Saint Paul School District

In the wake of a February 21 memo banning the use of bleach as a cleaning agent in the St. Paul School District, custodians fear the decision could put students at greater risk of contracting an infectious disease.

"I have kids walking into bathrooms I cannot sanitize," says one custodian, who asked that his name not be used for fear of being fired. "Everybody signed [the memo] because we were threatened with the loss of our job if we brought bleach into the building."

The custodian says he picked up two respiratory illnesses in the month since the decision was announced, and fears worse is yet to come if they don't return to using the 10 percent bleach solution that had been standard practice for decades.

"I deal with blood, feces, and urine," the custodian says. "They have taken [bleach] away from me and haven't given me anything but a tabletop disinfectant to deal with things."

Saint Paul School District Spokeswoman Toya Stewart Downey confirmed the bleach ban, explaining that the decision was made as part of an effort to make the school district more environmentally friendly.

"The impetus for this was a couple different things," Downey says. "The district was looking to go greener, and then we had parents approach us and talk about their concerns about using bleach throughout the schools."

Bleach is a skin irritant and can trigger asthma, she notes, and when combined with ammonia it creates toxic fumes.

The memo offers several alternatives to bleach, including Quickfill 2.0 and Betco Lemon.

"The disinfectants do have killing agents in them that will get rid of the other bodily fluids," Downey says. "I don't think bleach is the only thing that can be used to stop germs from spreading."

She also rebutted the notion that the custodian's recent infections could be tied to the lack of bleach in the schools.

"It could be a coincidence," she suggests. "I don't work in the schools, but we've had our share of illnesses around here, from stomach flu to bronchitis to colds."

The Saint Paul School District Bleach Memo
The Saint Paul School District Bleach Memo

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