Drivers for Forest Hills uneasy about chemicals cleaning buses

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — With an urgent focus on keeping kids healthy to ensure they can continue classroom learning, bus drivers for Forest Hills Public Schools fear the district’s sanitizing product is doing more harm than good.

Two drivers contacted Target 8, alleging negative reactions to the cleaning product and lack of responsiveness to concerns.

As part of added sanitation measures implemented in response to COVID-19, drivers, like in many districts, are tasked with wiping down the bus between runs.

“I decided to look up the information online and when I got the information online, it set me back in my seat, I was pretty stunned,” one driver told Target 8.

Both drivers interviewed asked to remain anonymous because they are concerned about losing their jobs. Both also stated their main priority is student safety, which prompted reaching out to Target 8.

“We genuinely care about them, and so I was very concerned at the amount of times this pesticide would be sprayed over and over and over throughout the day,” the second driver interviewed explained.

The product is Husky 891. Its concentrated safety data sheet (SDS) states, “Causes severe skin burns and serious eye damage.”

The district told Target 8 a diluted mixture is being used to clean the buses and provided a data sheet for that mixture, which differs from the safety warnings associated with the concentrated form.

“Forest Hills Public Schools (FHPS) consulted with Action Chemical, our chemical supplier for over 17 years. This product has been used safely and successfully in the district for many years. It is also used nationwide at universities, K-12 schools, nursing home facilities, hospitals etc.,” the district said in an email.

The complaining drivers don’t agree with that explanation and believe spraying multiple times throughout the day could become harmful to the students sitting in the seats.

“I was spraying on a seat and the bottle cap fell off and stuff just spilled everywhere, and I got some on my lips and on my face and hands and stuff,” one of the drivers recounted. “My lips started going numb. I didn’t think much about it, but then I talked to other people and they said their asthma’s been kicking in, stuff like that.”

The other driver noted breathing problems and, “I also was getting headaches. My mouth and my lips were burning, and I thought that was very weird.”

Target 8 confirmed the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) received complaints about the product. A representative for the administration could not discuss the complaints as they are considered open against Forest Hills.

The district said the product meets all safety requirements but will offer an alternative if requested by a driver.

>>>PDF: Forest Hills Public Schools’ response to Target 8

The district’s chemical supplier, Action Chemical answered Target 8’s questions Friday afternoon.

Troy Dominic, the Action Chemical representative who works with the district, explained the mixture is a 1:128 ratio. Meaning for every ounce of concentrated product, there are 128 ounces of water mixed with it.

Target 8: Is there a possibility the mixture the district is using is not diluted enough?

“It wouldn’t be a percentage high enough to make a negligible difference,” Dominic responded. “Even if it were double the amount or something… you’re still talking one to two ounces of product to 128 ounces of water. So, I don’t believe it would change the SDS information.”

Target 8: How would you explain the drivers’ physical reactions to the product if this is safe?

“I guess I would start with showing them the version of the SDS sheet that they’re actually using,” Dominic said, acknowledging he is not minimizing their concerns. “Is it coincidental, I don’t know… I know I would probably be a little hypersensitive if I didn’t understand something and read some information (online).”

Target 8: What would your message be to parents?

“This particular product is manufactured by one of the largest chemical manufacturers in the world… It’s a safe product and been used for over 15 years,” Dominic said. “They’ve never had a complaint on this product and nor have we as a distributor. In all the years we’ve been selling it, we’ve not had a single incident or even somebody saying it bothered their skin… It’s as mild as a formula can get but still effective at eradicating germs.”

“I would put my child on that same bus and have no issue with it.”

The chemical supplier also commended the district’s health and safety efforts.