New Law to “Protect” Kids from Germs Would Kill Band Program

Hi Readers — Get ready to start gnashing. A bill in Massachusetts would require all schools there to “professionally” sterlize their band isntruments, according to this knnftiydny
in the Wicked Local Sumerville (great name!). And guess what? Only one company in Massachusetts does this.

The owner of that company, a dentist, insists that without this pricey sterilization — $20-$30 per instrument and done twice a year — children’s health is at risk. But an epidemilogist at the Mass. Department of Public Health, Alfred DiMaria,  points out in the article that:

…there has never been a documented outbreak of illness associated with shared band instruments, and it is very unlikely outbreaks have gone undetected by health departments across the country….”There is no evidence that it’s a problem. I can’t argue that it’s [not] a theoretical possibility, but we don’t really mandate things are theoretical.”

Ah, but there is the rub: Increasingly, we do. Just look at the story a few posts below this one — the one where a Florida school won’t let a child walk out of school to his or her parent’s car without an escort, just “in case” something bad COULD happen. Or look at the schools that ban tag, “in case” someone could get hurt. Look at the new Federal law insisting that every part of every item sold to children be tested for lead, just “in case” a child eats his sock, or the insole of her shoe. Look at all the park districts that have uprooted their see-saws and merry-go-rounds “in case” of an accident. “What if???” hysteria is driving us mad with unnecessary precaution.

Mind you, the Massachusetts schools already DO sterilize their instruments according to the manufacturers’ guidelines. This “professional” sterilization is just an extra, unnecessary, pricey step — one that could bankrupt some schools’  band programs.

Talk about a cure that’s worse than the disease. Particularly when there isn’t any disease to begin with. — Lenore


43 Responses to New Law to “Protect” Kids from Germs Would Kill Band Program

  1. Dot Khan September 9, 2009 at 11:29 pm #

    I’ve worked with thousands of bands in a dirty nightclub for 20 years. I never heard of any musicians getting sick from any kind of instrument. Nothing more serious than a headache from hearing a bad musician.

  2. Elfir September 9, 2009 at 11:40 pm #

    They’ll use swine flu fears to push this through I bet. Then a few years down the line they’ll decide band programs cost too much and cut the programs entirely because they forced the extra expense onto the instrument maintenance.

  3. aDad September 9, 2009 at 11:51 pm #

    Does it surprise anyone that the good Doctor Lapore who operates the only business able to provide this “service” is a campaign contributor to the honorable representative who’s sponsoring this bill? Let’s see, he can make a bundle for a campaign contributor (who will undoubtedly continue his generosity) while appearing to “think of the children”. What could be wrong with that?

  4. Blake September 9, 2009 at 11:59 pm #

    If schools already sterilize their instruments via manufacturer guidelines, isn’t that enough? I regularly drink after members of my family and even, in a couple of cases, have had drinks (non-alcoholic) with people who were simply acquaintances. Nothing catastrophically bad has happened to me. Take the precautions (kids do get sick, after all, and might come to school regardless), but don’t go overboard.

  5. pentamom September 10, 2009 at 12:00 am #

    “Mind you, the Massachusetts schools already DO sterilize their instruments according to the manufacturers’ guidelines. This “professional” sterilization is just an extra, unnecessary, pricey step — one that could bankrupt some schools’ band programs.”

    That’s incredible. To think my older brothers all played in the band, frequently with loaned instruments, back in the day when nobody did more than wipe the mouthpiece and keys with a clean cloth (if that — these were teenaged boys, after all), and they’ve all made it into their 50’s so far.

  6. tristanverboven September 10, 2009 at 12:09 am #

    Thanks for your continued good sense. This chronic “helmeting” of schoolkids so often has its heart in the wrong place. Its even worse when it smells of corruption like this. These measures are meant to protect the adults not the parents. Sadly this benevolence carries a harmful doctrine that is taught to children by example. The message: Fear the unknown! Trust institutions to protect you! Dont take risks! These are the lessons that kids will carry away from the experience, all to feed parents insatiable need for control and piece of mind.

  7. Banshee September 10, 2009 at 12:13 am #

    The schools I went to didn’t have loaned instruments that I was aware of. If you were in band, you were required to have your own instrument unless it was something like drums I think. And I didn’t go to some high class school where everyone had money either. If you couldn’t afford new you bought used, no big deal. Then you had something you could take home and practice with and no one had to share germs.

  8. aDad September 10, 2009 at 12:20 am #


    Interestingly, the very next story on the Somerville website is about the public schools’ instrument rental policy:

    Also, what are you going to do about kids who are just starting to lear and decide to trade their flute for an oboe or whatever? Should the parents have to fork out for each one, or would it be nice to give it a try first? What about tubas ($500 used on eBay)?

  9. Tameson O'Brien September 10, 2009 at 12:26 am #

    When we were loaned an instrument at school things like suzaphones and flugel horns and other “rare” type instruments, they signed each instrument out to a pecific student for the duration of the school year, and they were returned on the last day of school. They were not disinfected, but the process of sitting in the band room over the summer killed any potential communicable diseases, and I know of absolutely no one that got sick on the first couple of days of using a loaned instrument.

  10. Rob O. September 10, 2009 at 12:59 am #

    It’s not only that this is pointless and of questionable motives, but it’s harmful as well.

    Antibacterial products provide no greater benefit than regular soaps and cleaners. Worse yet, they prevent you from building up antibodies so antibacterial soaps actually contribute to the resistance of bacteria to medications that are currently available to kill them.

  11. Delphine September 10, 2009 at 1:51 am #

    Strangely, kids have been playing in bands over the last few hundred years, and not many died from it. Hmm…

  12. Banshee September 10, 2009 at 2:17 am #

    aDad, I have no idea. I wasn’t actually in band, I was just commenting that I wasn’t aware that places loaned out instruments. My sister was in band and she either switched or added an instrument to learn, I forget which. My parents bought her both instruments, and my family was on the far low end of middle class (ie. constantly behind on bills, buying school clothes at Goodwill and Kmart…). I seriously doubt that my Mom would have forked out for a used instrument if they were that ridiculously priced. I would imagine used instument shops are probably cheaper than EBay, but I’m not sure what exactly I’m basing that assumption on. My point is, yes I think that in some cases the parents should be expected to make decisions on whether or not their child can do something based on the family budget. If Mom says to little Johnny that he can take band class at school but he has to pick an instrument and stick with it because she’s not going to buy him something different if he decides he doesn’t like it, then I think that’s perfectly reasonable.

  13. Nicole September 10, 2009 at 2:27 am #

    Ahhhh!!! This is my state – I am so ashamed! This reeks of lobbying, though, and I think aDad hit the nail on the head with that one. And also sad is how easily the parents and general public will be swayed by this, especially with all the H1N1 hype. I wouldn’t be surprised if they saw this flu as an opportunity to sell the “cleaning service” and schools are doing anything right now to gear up against an epidemic. They’re like sitting ducks for law like this.

  14. Tana September 10, 2009 at 2:41 am #

    so this one shop will get all the business- only there will be no business because the new procedure will be financially impossible for schools. so the shop will ultimately lose any additional business. that sounds suicidal to me.

  15. MFA Grad September 10, 2009 at 2:59 am #

    The whole bill is overkill, considering that the schools already sterilize the instruments themselves. This reeks of an attempt to take advantage of the Swine Flu scare with kids going back to the giant petri dish known as school (my niece and nephew have only been back in school for a few weeks and they’ve already caught strep, but their parents aren’t freaked out – just annoyed – because they know that it’s a natural consequence of huge numbers of kids getting together in one place); aDad’s mention of the campaign contributions greasing access to the sponsoring Rep is a good point as well.

    I’ve got a good friend who’s a music teacher/band leader in Boston – I’ve emailed him a link to the article and can’t wait to see what he says in reaction to it. He’s already unhappy about how budget cuts have affected the music department. *puts hand to ear and waits to hear the BANG that will be his head exploding upon reading the article*

  16. Laura Vellenga September 10, 2009 at 3:14 am #

    i’m sure the owner of the only company in MA who can professionally sterilize band instruments is in no way biased in his opinion that instruments be cleaned twice a year. he’s only “thinking of the children.” any time someone tells me to think of the children, i grab on to my wallet.

  17. Amy Alkon September 10, 2009 at 3:33 am #

    This is idiotic, since, as behavioral ecologist Marlene Zuk noted at an evolutionary psych conference I attended, “We co-evolved with parasites,” and it seems many of the “diseases of civiizations” (like Crohn’s) may be caused by being “too clean.” (And yes, I’m speaking to you, all you nitwits always pulling out the hand sanitizer.) According to Zuk, kids that are healthier live on farms, have brothers and sisters, walk barefoot in dirt, etc.

    Dirty is good! It jumpstarts your immune system.

    Zuk also spoke about how a researcher named JV Weinstock saw a 70 percent remission in Crohn’s patients when he gave them a solution of pig whipworm (doesn’t typically infest in humans) in Gatorade. (Interestingly, Jews and Arabs disproportionately have Crohn’s – two cultures that do not eat pork.

  18. Stephanie September 10, 2009 at 3:51 am #

    Sounds like a money grab by the guy running the sterilization business. Why get customers legitimately when you can legislate them?

  19. lauradee24 September 10, 2009 at 3:58 am #

    so the DENTIST doesn’t know the basic biology of how when you apply alcohol to the instruments, it causes the cell to lyse and die? Yeah, an alcohol pad is good enough for doctors’ offices, why not the mouth pieces of band instruments? Ridiculous. Practicing good hygiene=good. Going overboard=bad.

  20. lauradee24 September 10, 2009 at 4:00 am #

    (Exactly as someone else up there said: he’s capitalizing on the people’s fear of H1N1 to make an extra buck. Ridiculous and unprofessional, in my opinion.)

  21. pentamom September 10, 2009 at 4:22 am #

    Banshee, it’s not so much a matter of a kid switching instruments by choice, as a kid who’s studying and owns an instrument in one class (i.e. alto sax) needing to play bari sax because there are plenty of altos and no baris in the band. So, instead of making the kid buy a bari sax that he might only play for the year (or even, maybe only on the jazz band, but not on the concert band), he borrows the bari for a year while continuing to have his own alto.

    Or, the classic case, of the sousaphone. Almost nobody but professionals BUYS a sousaphone. (And there aren’t may professional primary sousaphone players in the world, since they’re only for outdoor use, not formal concerts.) People own tubas, and use sousaphones for marching or stadium use only. And NOBODY wants to haul a sousaphone back and forth from school to home to practice.

  22. pentamom September 10, 2009 at 4:24 am #

    Anyway, this isn’t about subsidizing kids so they don’t have to buy their own instruments in the normal course of things, it’s about having the full complement of instruments a band needs, when no one in their right mind would buy a teenager some of the less-used ones, in addition to the one he or she already plays. Trust me, every kid in the band has a viable primary instrument, and many have secondary ones. But nobody owns sousaphones, and nobody’s expected to buy four saxes because the needs of the band vary.

  23. pentamom September 10, 2009 at 4:28 am #

    Besides Swine Flu, there’s the specter of MRSA evoked in these situations, too.

  24. Lori September 10, 2009 at 4:29 am #

    I can’t believe we didn’t all die of communicable diseases in band back in the 70s. We sometimes didn’t even wipe off the mouthpieces – and instruments with reeds were even worse.


  25. Culdesachero September 10, 2009 at 4:39 am #

    This has all of the markings of most bad legislation designed to protect us. Just look at Ontario. Our premier bans anything that makes him look good. He tried to limit the passengers in a car for teenagers.

    1. It panders to fears to make the politician appear to be the nice guy who puts our safety first.
    2. It creates an exploitable niche for opportunistic businesses making it look like lobbyist were paid for.
    3. Its costs greatly outweigh the protection from real or perceived threats. It does nothing to make the world safer and reduces the life experiences of those who can’t afford the extra measures.

    This Lepore guy actually compares his invention to penicillin! Disgusting. Disgraceful. Unethical! Penicillin has probably saved ten’s of millions of lives. This threatens to destroy already struggling music programs while saving ZERO!

    Then he and Donato try to take the high ground and say, “To allow students to use potentially infected instruments is immoral.” My skin is crawling. Isn’t it enough to offer the service and leave the decision up to the school, or even the parents who wish to use it? No, they try to bully their legislation through.

    My school shared instruments daily. We washed the mouthpieces out ourselves with disinfectant.

  26. highlyirritable September 10, 2009 at 5:41 am #

    You know when I become concerned about germs in schools? When my daughter tells me that rather than eat the lunch I packed her, she has been licking doorknobs.

    Bubble suits, anyone?

  27. Deputyheadmistress September 10, 2009 at 6:44 am #

    You are so right- increasingly we DO regulate things that are theoretical.

    Look up ‘precautionary principle,’ and understand that this is the standard Congress used for the ‘lead law-‘ and is using for others. It is the basis that litigatious lobbyist groups like PIRG, Public Citizen, NRDC, and others believe should be the basis for all of us to be constricted by rules and regulations.

    The Precautionary Principle requires that everything be proven totally safe beforehand. So, in the question of the band instruments, it is not enough to say nobody ever has been harmed, the schools would have to prove that nobody ever could be- and risk assessment is not allowed. If somebody, somehow, *could* be harmed at any level, then the Precautionary Principle demands that EVERYBODY be protected.

    The Precautionary Principle is the underlying philosophy of the so-called lead law, the CPSIA.

    That is why the law is written so that the CPSC cannot legally exempt any product unless the business seeking that exemption can show “on the basis of the best-available, objective, peer-reviewed, scientific evidence” that a “specific product or material” would not lead to ANY absorption of lead in the human body or to any adverse impact on health and safety.- that’s quite a huge and sweeping requirement- and it calls for the makers of hand-made items to invest more money than they make in research for the purpose of proving a negative- something most people understand is fairly impossible to do.

    See here for more:
    “The Science and Environmental Health Network is working to implement the precautionary principle as a basis for environmental and public health policy. The principle and the main components of its implementation are stated this way in the 1998 Wingspread Statement on the Precautionary Principle:

    “When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof. The process of applying the precautionary principle must be open, informed and democratic and must include potentially affected parties. It must also involve an examination of the full range of alternatives, including no action.” – Wingspread Statement on the Precautionary Principle, Jan. 1998″

    “The precautionary principle, virtually unknown here six years ago, is now a U.S. phenomenon. In December 2001 the New York Times Magazine listed the principle as one of the most influential ideas of the year, describing the intellectual, ethical, and policy framework SEHN had developed around the principle.

    In June 2003, the Board of Supervisors of the City and County of San Francisco became the first government body in the United States to make the precautionary principle the basis for all its environmental policy. ”

    I think that explains a lot about how we got where we are today. That fraidy cat attitude that everything must be proven 100 percent safe 100 percent of the time, to 100 percent of the population, no exceptions, or we act as though it’s 100 percent dangerous to everybody all the time has seeped out of the law courts and environmental arenas into pretty much all of life.

  28. exoteric September 10, 2009 at 8:28 am #

    What good would having them disinfected twice a year be, if the instrument passes among players daily? Surely if this Bill were to have any hope of properly protecting the children from each other, it should require the instruments be professionally cleaned after use by each child?

    Next step, sit children singly inside protective bubbles during lessons where the air to each bubble is filtered – to avoid the risk that a child may catch a deadly infectious disease when one of his or her poor classmates sneezes.

    Next step, keep the children inside their protective bubble at all times on school grounds, including recess and lunch. All food passed into the bubble must be irradiated to kill off potential causes of food poisoning.

    Next step, keep the children in their bubbles 24/7, less exposure to their own parents transmits an infection. Will reduce the risk of drowning too.

  29. Maureen September 10, 2009 at 10:19 am #

    Have you heard? Teenagers are constantly making out with each other.


    This is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. I played in the band from 4th through 12th grade. My old high school band had then – and still has now – around 250 members. I graduated 20 years ago and no one died in my four years there and I haven’t heard of anyone dying since. And instruments are borrowed all the time.

    What a scam this guy is running. If karma is listening, this guy will be too sick with various strains of flu this winter to run his “business.”

  30. MaeMae September 10, 2009 at 10:51 am #

    My first thought too was the study done on hand sanitizers and how they can actually makes things worse. Granted, the thought of using an instrument after someone else just slobbered all over it really grosses me out. However, kids don’t think like that. As long as they can’t see the spit they’re good. My school also gave out instruments for the year. We didn’t have a marching band so I don’t know about that but band kids were expected to practice every night so they were expected to bring their instrument home. I’m waiting for the government to decide to teach classes online so the student can learn in their own home with no fear of contact with those dirty “others” and their germs.

  31. Susan September 10, 2009 at 11:15 am #

    Lenore – Thanks for the nostalgia kick tonight. I lived in Somerville for several years. Looks like the only thing that’s changed is the housing prices!

  32. Helenna September 10, 2009 at 2:40 pm #

    By disinfecting /sterilising everything & not allowing children to develop their natural immunity from an early age, they are basically being assured of sickness on a regular basis or when anything major comes along.
    When my children were babies, I washed their bottles, dummies (I think you call them pacifiers) etc with the rest of the families things in hot soapy water. I never bought any of the numerous gadgets on the market to sterilise things. They crawled in the dirt and inspected how things tasted that they found (I could have told them ‘yuck’). I keep a clean house with minimal chemicals in use and I cook fresh food every day. Initially I never thought anything of it as I went about my way of parenting (or is it from memories of how my grandmother brought me up?)…. however I am now observing with interest how often friends kids as well as the kids at kindy are getting sick… and then try to remember the last time my family has had so much as a cold….. I honestly can’t remember. My husband thinks maybe it was 3 years ago. All the adds I now see on TV showing mothers carrying a small bottle of Dettol in their handbags leaves me stunned…. and yet it is another way to make some parents especially new parents feel that if they don’t follow all these new trends they may be labeled as a bad parent for not making the effort to buy the latest. I wish there was an add to support parents in listening to their gut feelings and remember & implement parenting skills that made them happy in their childhood. But where’s the money in that?

  33. Dave September 10, 2009 at 10:44 pm #

    Played in school bands since 6th grade, I can’t remember them ever sterilizing the instruments. And come to think of it I don’t remember any pandemics arising from the practice of sharing instruments. This stuff makes you crazy. When will it all end?

  34. Uly September 10, 2009 at 11:06 pm #

    All the adds I now see on TV showing mothers carrying a small bottle of Dettol in their handbags leaves me stunned…. and yet it is another way to make some parents especially new parents feel that if they don’t follow all these new trends they may be labeled as a bad parent for not making the effort to buy the latest.

    They’re not such good parents. I saw a woman with a six month old once whose baby was sucking on the (closed, but easy to accidentally open) top of one of those hand sanitizers. I pointed it out (in the same way I’d point out that somebody’s shoelace is untied) and she looked at me like I was crazy, but somehow I don’t think sucking on bottles of poison (open or closed) is exactly the best choice.

  35. Andrea September 11, 2009 at 5:36 am #

    I played trumpet from the 4th grade all the way through college. And I borrowed unusual instruments like piccolo trumpet and flugelhorn from the school at times. In all those years, I never once got sick or knew of anyone dying or getting seriously ill from band instruments. Craziness!!

  36. Marion September 13, 2009 at 3:13 am #

    Interesting fact: many metals are anti-bacterial. Yes, metal kills bacteria. Especially copper and brass. This is why doorknobs in hospitals are (according to wikipedia) made of brass. I quote: “Germicidal Properties: The copper in brass makes brass germicidal, via the oligodynamic effect. For example, brass doorknobs disinfect themselves of many bacteria within eight hours”.

    “The oligodynamic effect (Greek oligos = few, dynamis = force) was discovered in 1893 by the Swiss Karl Wilhelm von Nägeli as a toxic effect of metal ions on living cells, algae, molds, spores, fungus, virus, prokaryotic and eukaryotic microorganisms, even in relatively low concentrations. This antimicrobial effect is shown by ions of: mercury, silver, copper, iron, lead, zinc, bismuth, gold, aluminium and other metals.”

    So what were those musical instruments made of, again?

  37. Lisa September 14, 2009 at 10:55 pm #

    This is ridiculous! The responses on who might use a borrowed instrument and why are completely in line with my experience. When I joined band in 5th grade I chose the clarinet, and the instrument leasing program was that we owned it after 3 years. I *hated* it by 7th grade, so after the 3 years was up (my mom’s rule – I wasn’t quitting with only one year left to pay it off), I was ready to quit band until the band director suggested that I try a different instrument. He gave me a school-owned baritone. I wouldn’t have bought another instrument then, because we weren’t even sure if it was the clarinet that I couldn’t stand, or band overall. Well, from 8th – 12th grade, I played baritone (half of 8th grade), tuba (my primary instrument from middle of 8th grade on – I used a 3/4 size tuba in 8th grade and for 9th grade marching band, and a differend full size one after that), trombone (needed to learn for HS jazz), bass trombone (guy playing it graduated, as the tuba player I was the most likely in the trombone section to adapt easily to the larger mouthpiece), and sousaphone (ONE song in marching band my junior year… it was for effect, mostly visual, and it was only for a few bars of the piece). I own none of these. Plus, a couple of times the sax section in jazz needed to play clarinets for part of a song, and they all borrowed them. I *wish* I owned a low brass instrument now, but at the time the one I would have wanted was a tuba, and they’re WAY more expensive than I could afford on my part-time Burger King income. I did eventually buy my own mothpieces, but when we didn’t have our own we just boiled them to kill any germs.

    I hope my daughter isn’t denied the kind of opportunity I had. The ability not only to learn an instrument, but to be able to learn flexibility in switching depending on the needs of the band, personal interests, and/or the best sound for a particular piece was a wonderful experience.

  38. Cassandra September 15, 2009 at 6:27 am #

    This is stupid. They’re already sterlizing it, for god’s sake! I live in Somerville and am glad to see that none of the representatives support this stupid bill. I guess that being forced to cut the band program entirely is one way to ensure that germs don’t spread, but it seems drastic!

  39. car review September 9, 2010 at 5:58 pm #

    Strangely, kids have been playing in bands over the last few hundred years, and not many died from it. Hmm…

  40. dani September 29, 2010 at 4:14 am #

    i have played the flute, bassoon, and sousaphone for the schools band. i only own a flute the rest of the instruments are owned by the school.i have never gotten sick from “the instrument”. it’s not the instruments that spread germs! it’s just the fact that there are around 60 people in one room blowing their directed breath onto the person in the seat front of them that tends to get people sick.


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