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Sample Email for Schools: Quit the Quats

Hello [Name of School district administrator],

My name is [Insert your Name] and I am a parent to a child who currently goes to [Insert School’s Name]. I am sure you and your team are already thinking about safety protocols when school (hopefully) resumes in-person at [Insert timing of school start]. One of the measures I’m sure is at the top of your mind is disinfecting. While disinfecting is definitely one way to reduce exposure, there are also health hazards associated with disinfectant use. I encourage and ask the district to use disinfectants that do not contain harmful ammonium quaternary compounds (or “quats”). Quats can often be found in disinfecting wipes like Clorox or Lysol that are commonly used in schools. Quats have serious health concerns for anyone who uses them (teachers, children, janitors) including:

  • Quats are potent skin irritants and can cause rashes and dermatitis.
  • Quats can irritate the lungs leading to breathing problems.
  • Cleaning workers/janitors exposed regularly to quats have developed occupational asthma.
  • Quats are linked to reproductive harm, potentially affecting fertility, and possibly leading to birth defects.
  • Widespread use of quats is contributing to the global problem of antimicrobial resistance, leading to the development of “superbugs” that cannot be controlled with antibiotics. (You can find citations to the scientific studies supporting these findings here.)

Often, disinfecting wipes aren’t even used correctly. For example, the label of Clorox Disinfecting Wipes advises users to wash hands after use, keep out of reach of children, and in some cases, rinse affected surfaces with water after use. And I am concerned that the frequency of disinfecting in our schools may increase considerably in response to COVID concerns – which even further increases exposure to disinfecting chemicals.

The good news is there are many disinfectants on the EPA’s registered list (linked here) that kill Covid-19 that do not contain quats and include safer alternatives like hydrogen peroxide and lactic acid and are not linked to the same health impacts as quats.

I hope the district will consider adopting a policy that requires the use of safer alternatives, that are still effective in killing Covid-19. In addition, teachers can support this effort when they develop back to school supply lists by specifying purchasing disinfecting wipes that contain hydrogen peroxide or lactic acid (Clorox and Lysol both make wipes containing these safer alternatives).

I’d also like to point out that the best way for reducing illness in schools is hand washing. There are really good studies out there comparing classrooms for instance – one with established handwashing protocols and education and one without – and the levels of illness and absenteeism between the two are significantly different.[1] One terrific study examined a host of studies on handwashing interventions in different settings and concluded that handwashing alone can reduce the risk of getting gastrointestinal disease (stomach bugs) by over 30% and reduce the chance of respiratory illness by 20%![2]

So I hope that when schools do return, a robust hand washing protocol is also put in place (for example, washing hands upon arriving at school, before snack time, lunchtime, after recess, and before heading home).

I’m happy to set up a time to talk or help in any way in developing a policy that requires the use of safer disinfectants in our schools for the safety and health of both students and staff.

Thank you, [Insert your name] [Insert the best way to contact you]

[1] Lau CH, Springston EE, Sohn MW, et al. Hand hygiene instruction decreases illness-related absenteeism in elementary schools: a prospective cohort study. BMC Pediatr. 2012;12:52. Published 2012 May 15. doi:10.1186/1471-2431-12- 52. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3470997/

[2] Aiello AE, Coulborn RM, Perez V, Larson EL. Effect of hand hygiene on infectious disease risk in the community setting: a meta-analysis. Am J Public Health. 2008;98(8):1372–1381. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2007.124610. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2446461/

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Resources to Include with Letter

Fact Sheets

GO TO – Quit Quats main page

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