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Help Your School Quit the Quats!

5 Questions to Ask Your School About Their Disinfecting Products

Alex Scranton
Director of Science
and Research

Wondering how to go about asking your school to quit the quats and use safer alternatives?

Quats (or ammonium quaternary compounds) are frequently used in many disinfecting products, including those used in schools and other public spaces. Quats are pesticides; they are asthma triggers, allergens and are linked to other respiratory and reproductive harm. They are even suspect in the spread of ‘superbugs’, that cannot be controlled with antibiotics. And unfortunately our exposure to quats has skyrocketed while administrators and educators work to combat COVID-19.

Thankfully, there are numerous disinfecting products that do not use quats, that are safer and just as effective at killing bacteria and viruses — including COVID-19. Many schools and public spaces are often unaware of the dangers of quats, and are also uninformed about the availability of safer and effective alternatives. Below are tips and questions to get the conversation started and find solutions to help your school make the switch to safer.

Here are 5 questions you can ask your school (and/or your school’s janitorial supplier) about the cleaning and disinfecting products used at the school:

1. What products (brands and product names) are used in the school? What products are used for cleaning? What products are used for disinfecting?

Ideally, you’d want to see both types of products. Cleaning and disinfecting are different, but often get lumped together. Regular cleaning does not require disinfecting chemicals to clean surfaces. Disinfecting should be done in a more targeted and intentional way (and less often than cleaning).

2. Can you provide me with Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) for all the products used at the school?

Suppliers must provide this information to their customers. A responsible school should have this information on hand and be able to provide it to those asking. (Keep in mind, the quality of SDSs varies tremendously, with some companies providing little to no information on ingredient safety on their SDSs.)

3. Does the supplier offer any products that are certified through the EPA Safer Choice or Design for the Environment Program?

EPA’s Safer Choice and Design for the Environment programs certify cleaners made with inherently safer chemicals. While no certification is perfect, products that gain either of these certifications are considerably less likely to contain highly toxic ingredients. A good supplier should offer some of these alternatives – and if they don’t, they need to hear from their customers that these alternatives are desired!

4. Does the supplier offer any products on the San Francisco Approved list of safer disinfectants?

List available here: https://www.sfapproved.org/safer-disinfectants-covid-19

This list of products are both on the EPA’s List N of disinfectants approved for use against COVID-19, AND are those products which use safer active ingredients like hydrogen peroxide, citric acid, ethanol etc. The SF Approved page (designed by the City of San Francisco) includes a long list of products specifically for custodians and large institutions.

5. If safer alternatives are available from the supplier – would the school consider trying one of these options?

Or, if no safer alternatives are available from the supplier – would the school consider looking for another supplier that offers better options?

Often there is resistance to change when it seems like the products currently being used work just fine. But if some of the legwork (finding better alternatives) can be done for the school it can lower that barrier to change. And it is certainly worth complaining about suppliers that are not offering a school a reasonable selection of products to choose from.

Finally, connect with other parents or with your schools’ teachers about this and start organizing! The more people you have behind your cause, the more likely you’ll see change. If you want more support as you work towards getting your school to eliminate quat-based products, reach out to WVE’s Program and Outreach Manager – Maria Ignacia – at mariaignaciams@womensvoices.org

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