Fourteen people, including 12 kids, apparently drank chemical floor sealant instead of milk Tuesday morning during a summer program at an elementary school because large pouches of the chemical were stacked on the same pallet as boxes containing large pouches of milk, Juneau School District Superintendent Bridget Weiss said Wednesday.
“That’s when the beginning of this mismatch began,” she said.
There’s still plenty of remaining questions and plenty of angry parents demanding answers following the incident at Sitʼ Eeti Shaanáx̱ – Glacier Valley Elementary School. But aside from expecting those who drank the fluid to be fully recovered by Thursday morning, Weiss said school, food service and police officials are still trying to determine how the switch happened and what actions may be taken as a result.
“We’ve been in contact with the 12 families who’ve been impacted,” she said. “So far it seems (the children) are recovering fine.”
The liquid was Hillyard Seal 341, which according to a safety data sheet is “expected to be a low ingestion hazard.” Weiss said there is typically a 48-hour window for people who’ve ingested it to show symptoms.
The breakfast was served as part of the school’s RALLY program, one of three local school sites for the program that serves students ages 5-12. The other two schools were unaffected, and Weiss said the incident is being treated as an isolated situation, although safeguards and possible future precautions are resulting.
“We had a food inspector go to the kitchen this morning and check on all the protocols to make sure everything was up to standards,” she said, noting inspections were also conducted at the other two kitchens.
District officials are also considering substituting the hot breakfasts with grab-and-go meals that would include cartons of milk rather than a bulk dispenser, if the resources exist, Weiss said.
The meals are being served by NANA Management Services. Dawn Kimberlin, the company’s vice president of marketing and communications, stated in an email interview Wednesday the company is working closely with the district to determine the cause of the mix-up.
“We immediately dispatched our safety team to Juneau,” she wrote. “We are in the midst of a comprehensive internal investigation that will look at every contributing factor to determine exactly what happened and to identify potential safety measures.”
The Juneau Police Department is the lead investigator in the incident, Weiss said. As of Wednesday afternoon the matter had not been classified as a criminal investigation.
Numerous parents of students who ingested the solvent as well as parents other youths in the program expressed anger in forums ranging from local social media sites to national news publications about aspects of the incident, including the district taking a few hours to notify parents rather than doing so immediately. Weiss said the district is trying to update parents regularly, but “our first priority is those families who are impacted.”
“We are focusing on them as our top priority as we are explaining to them what we know about what happened and the risks of the specific chemical,” she said. “Also we’re rolling out communications to all summer program families and to all RALLY families. It takes a little time to get through those.”
• Contact reporter Mark Sabbatini at firstname.lastname@example.org.