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KCAL News Investigates: Millions in LAUSD hand sanitizer goes to waste

KCAL News Investigates: Millions in LAUSD hand sanitizer goes to waste
KCAL News Investigates: Millions in LAUSD hand sanitizer goes to waste 06:46

More than a million dollars' worth of hand sanitizer purchased by the LAUSD to keep kids safe had to be disposed of because it's expiring.

We found the hand sanitizer sat at the district's warehouse for years, locked away until it reached the expiration date.

Then the district had to pay more than a million dollars to dispose of it.  All this while some teachers were asking parents for sanitizer to keep kids safe.

We asked Jenna Schwartz, a co-founder of Parents Supporting Teachers, a public schools advocacy group: During the COVID years, did you ever donate sanitizer to the school?

"Absolutely. There's a ton of people who brought sanitizer to their classrooms once we went back to school," said Schwartz.

While some teachers were relying on parents to donate hand sanitizer, we found plenty of it.

Cases and cases of sanitizer purchased by LAUSD for millions of taxpayer dollars was just sitting in shipping containers. Pictures provided by sources show the gallon jugs, which could have been used in classrooms to keep kids safe, went unused.

"It's really disheartening," said Schwartz.

She says hand sanitizer was on every teacher's wish list.

"Sure it always is," said Schwartz. "Sanitizer, Lysol wipes. Everyone's trying so hard to be clean. This idea that there's all this sanitizer that nobody knew was there, it's ridiculous."

We found LAUSD paid millions of dollars in taxpayer money to purchase the sanitizer, then had to pay more than a million more to properly dispose of it because it's expiring.

"It's a shocking waste of money, a shocking, shocking waste of money. Particularly at a time when this district is really cash strapped," said Jamie Court, president of nonprofit organization Consumer Watchdog.

We obtained documents showing that in August and September of 2020, in the height of the pandemic, the district purchased a total of 81,262 cases of hand sanitizer.  That's more than 325,000 gallons.

The cost to taxpayers: more than $3.2 million.

In fact, the district bought so much, it had to rent cargo containers just to store it all. The video from our drone shows them parked behind the LAUSD warehouse in Pico Rivera. The rentals cost taxpayers another $18,000.

For two years some of the sanitizer sat in the containers in the hot sun. 

Some employees told me they were concerned about the possible dangers because sanitizer is mostly alcohol, and flammable.  The danger became a reality earlier this month when cases of sanitizer -- not connected to the district -- caught fire.

Employees at the LAUSD warehouse had notified the L.A. County Fire Dept. about what was in these unmarked containers.  And the district was hit with a violation for "failure to properly label hazardous waste."

Afterwards we did see "danger" signs on the containers. But now the clock was running out.

Labels show that sanitizer does expire, and was now reaching its expiration date. 

In December we saw workers moving huge pallets. The district is now forced to get rid of millions of dollars of expiring sanitizer. But this isn't something you just pour down the drain or throw in the trash. Sanitizer has to be disposed of properly, and that costs money.

One document shows the cost for disposal: just under $1.4 million.

So in the final analysis, LAUSD bought 325,048 gallons of hand sanitizer at a cost of $3.2 million. But it only used a little more than 200,000 gallons -- meaning 123,000 gallons were left to expire. That's $1.4 million worth of expired hand sanitizer.  And it cost another $1.4 million to dispose of it.  That's $2.8 million down the drain.  

Isn't this a waste of taxpayer money?

"I don't believe it's a waste of taxpayer money to make sure we have enough sanitizer," said LAUSD Procurement Officer Marc Monforte.

Monforte says they purchased the sanitizer during the pandemic not knowing how much would be needed. But why wasn't it all distributed?

"There was more than adequate amount of sanitizer in all our schools. There should not have been and there probably are no schools right now without sanitizer," said Monforte.

But that's not what parents say. They say it's been on the wish lists of teachers to get sanitizer. Why wasn't the sanitizer distributed?

"We distributed adequate amount of sanitizer for all the schools," said Monforte.

Obviously not adequate if teachers had it on the wish list.

"As much as they needed, they got," said Monforte.

"When I think of what that million dollars could be used towards, when I think what the millions of dollars spent initially could have been used towards -- our teachers, our kids -- it's actually really frustrating," said Jenna Schwartz.

The district claims they tried to donate the sanitizer toward the end, but found no takers.  However I called around to a few social-services agencies who said they would have gladly accepted it.

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