East-West Elementary front window
East-West Elementary [Allison Hunter | WOUB]

Superintendent: Athens School Safe After Improperly Applied Disinfectant Wiped Down

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ATHENS, Ohio — An Athens school is now deemed safe after an “error” while disinfecting classrooms. The building had to be tested to ensure an improperly applied corrosive disinfectant had been properly wiped down.

The Athens City-County Health Department was on site at East-West Elementary Tuesday to test the level of the product Q.T. 3 a day after reports of the custodial staff failed to dilute the product before applying it before classes on Monday.

“Carpet, desktops, tile in a couple of places, their random testing indicated that all were within acceptable levels,” Athens City Schools District Superintendent Tom Gibbs said. “We are going to early tomorrow morning go through and wipe everything down again just as an added step.”

One of the manufactured classrooms meant to hold the East-West students during construction on East
One of the manufactured classrooms meant to hold the East-West students during construction on East. [Allison Hunter | WOUB]
The custodial team at East-West Elementary used the product to disinfect the school after students returned from winter break who had the flu or flu-like symptoms.

This is a common practice this time of year, according to Gibbs. Typical attendance is in the 95 percent range, but drops down to 85 percent during high-flu season.

Extra precaution was taken this year over fears surrounding the coronavirus spreading from China to other countries.

(Read more from NPR about the latest on the coronavirus)

A bottle of the disinfectant Q.T. 3
A bottle of the disinfectant Q.T. 3 [Courtesy Athens City Schools District]
When applied properly, the disinfectant is a safe product. But Gibbs said there was a miscommunication over the procedure for using this disinfectant.

“In regards to whether or not this particular bottled solution should be attached to a mechanism in the custodial closet that dilutes cleaning chemicals or not. And the custodian on duty interpreted it as that it did not need to be run through that mechanism and did not do so. That’s why we had the error.”

The full-strength disinfectant was more concentrated and may not have evaporated from all surfaces prior to school starting on Monday morning. An unnamed parent indicated their child described the desks as “sticky” before measures were taken to fix the error.

A hazard statement from Hillyard, the company that manufactures Q.T. 3, indicates it can cause severe skin burns and serious eye damage if contact is made at full strength. Other minor symptoms of exposure include red or irritated skin, headache and nausea.

Upon learning of the error the manufacturer was contacted.

“They recommended to us that we needed to use cool or room temperature water only to dilute the disinfectant and then wipe it up with paper towels,” Gibbs said.

Only four students had verifiable symptoms related to this incident, according to Gibbs, and they were on the mild end of the scale.

Steps will be taken by the school district to ensure that this situation does not happen again.

“I’ve had several people indicate to me throughout conversations through the past couple days now that prefer we not use a disinfectant of this strength. And so I’ve directed my maintenance supervisor to not use this particular product moving forward,” Gibbs said.

He added that they will retrain their custodial staff to ensure they know which products do and do not need to be diluted.