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Kayser sniffing out problems with scented soap in LAUSD schools

Vanessa Romo | May 1, 2014

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imgres-1LA Unified Board member Bennett Kayser is not only thinking about the LCAP, arts education, and transitioning to Common Core standards, he’s also thinking about soap.

Specifically, unscented soap.

According to Kayser, who has championed a variety of health issues since joining the board, the almond-scented, goopy, pink soap found in nearly every restroom, classroom or kitchen on an LA Unified campus could be an asthma attack “trigger” and should, therefore, be eliminated from public spaces.

It is just one of a number of cleaning products the district buys in gallon containers by the thousands, that Kayser says have been identified as containing harmful fragrances or dyes. He would like the district replace them with more “green” supplies to cut down on asthma-related absenteeism throughout the district.

His proposal, which will be announced at the May 13 board meeting — the middle of National Asthma Awareness Month — calls on Superintendent John Deasy to form a 90-day task force comprised of parents, district health officials and facilities managers, and outside asthma specialists “to review district operations in order to identify, make recommendations and ultimately eliminate” potentially irritating products in the 2014-15 school year.

“As a former health education teacher, I know how devastating asthma is to young bodies and minds,” Kayser told LA School Report.

His district stretches from Eagle Rock to South Gate and covers some of the most polluted areas of Los Angeles.

“From Board District 5’s point of view, we have the lead and arsenic emissions from the Exide Technologies plant in the South East Cities area, the Metrolink repair depot air-quality issues in the North East, and highways running thru it all,” Kayser continued. “If by changing our practices, we can eliminate asthma attack triggers and resulting school days lost, it should be a priority.”

The resolution cites national data that shows half of all children with asthma under the age of 12 miss an average of five days of school per year. In California, up to 11 percent of children with asthma miss 11 or more days of school per year due to this medical condition.

LA Unified’s Nursing Services reports there are 34,983 students with asthma in the district “though this number is likely to double when more thorough identifications are  done.”

But swapping out potentially harmful cleaning supplies in the nation’s second largest school district is a complicated process, involving several district departments.

“You have to look at your existing supply chain, then go through all of the right offices,” George Silva, Chief Procurement Officer for the district, told LA School Report.

With the district distributing hand soap at a rate of about 1,200 gallons in a “heavy” month, Silva says the company doesn’t have an unscented product “right off the shelf,” so they have offered to develop a new formula specially for the district.

“Then that, like anything that contains chemicals and is used in LA Unified, has to be reviewed by our Environmental, Health, and Safety team,” he said. Once it is approved, Silva said buyers in the Procurement Office shop around for the best deals. The district now pays $4 for each gallon of Waxie Lan-o-tone Lotion Soap.

“We want to make sure we source it correctly and look around for the lowest cost,” Silva said. “I’m not keen as a procurement guy to put all my eggs in one basket.”

If Kayser’s motion gains the board’s approval, new buying policies and guidelines would go into effect in the 2014-15 school year.



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