A friend recently forwarded me a link to an article published on the CTV News website asking me to provide my comments about the use of disinfectants in daycares and schools. The gist of the article is that several children ended up with burnt bottoms after using the washroom at a school in Ontario, Canada. This was apparently the second incident - 3 months prior a 6 year old girl received severe blisters.
As a result of this incident parents were calling for the school board to ban the use of the disinfectant and asking for answers as to how harmful chemicals can be approved for use around children. The product in question is a concentrated quaternary ammonium that is diluted prior to use. The school board has verified that the product was diluted correctly but indicated that residue was found on the toilet seats. According to a professor at the University of Ottawa the cause of the burns was not from with direct contact to the dispensed product itself, but from the residue left on the toilet seat after the disinfectant was left to air dry. It is believed that the humidity from the students' skin when in contact with the residue was enough to reconstitute it causing the burns.
As a mother of a four year old who has been in daycare since he was 9 months old, banning the use of disinfectants or sanitizing agents in daycares or schools would be an infection prevention nightmare. Children are germ factories. They touch everything and their level of personal hygiene is questionable at best! The use of disinfectants and sanitizing agents is a necessity; however, I would agree that they do not need to be used on every surface. While a one-product for all, mentality, may simplify training and supply management it is best to use disinfectant and sanitizing agents in a targeted manner on the high-touch surfaces such as faucet handles, toilets, door knobs etc. Keep their use to the areas and the surfaces that need them most.
Now this doesn't resolve the issue of the burnt bottoms as I do agree we need to use a disinfectant or sanitizing agent, however, it leads us to the next focus of investigating the products that are approved for use in schools. The Green Schools Initiative in partnership with the Green Purchasing Institute have published a guidance document "Use Safer Disinfectants and Disinfecting Practices" that includes some very salient points when it comes to choosing a disinfectant for use in schools.
1. Consider using registered disinfectants that contain hydrogen peroxide, citric acid or thymol as their active ingredient as these chemicals have safer occupational health and safety and environmental profiles.
2. Avoid disinfectants that contain active ingredients that are known asthmagens such as o-phenylphenol, bleach, quaternary ammonium compounds.
3. Investigate inert ingredients within the formulation to ensure they too are not hazardous.
4. Target the use of disinfectants and sanitizers to areas that require them - high touch surfaces, food contact surfaces etc
5. If using a concentrate, chose products that are available in containers that can be used with automated dilution solutions to ensure products are diluted correctly.
6. Follow manufacturers' Use Instructions - if the product requires a rinse following application, RINSE IT OFF!
7. Avoid the use of disinfectants that are known carcinogens (State of California lists o-phenylphenol as a chemical known to cause cancer).
While I can't state with certainty what truly caused the burnt bums, if as they suspect the cause was a result of residue left on the seats of the toilets perhaps rather than calling for a ban on the use of disinfectants and sanitizing agents in schools perhaps the better alternative is to lobby for the use of disinfectants and sanitizing agents that do not leave harmful residues behind. For example, hydrogen peroxide breaks down into water an oxygen - that sounds pretty safe to me!