Alaska school contractor mistook sealant for milk after finding it in food storage warehouse

·3 min read

A dozen Alaska schoolchildren were given floor sealant at breakfast this week because the product was accidentally delivered to a food-only warehouse and then mistaken for milk, school district officials said.

The Juneau School District said in a statement that an investigation by multiple agencies, including police, into the apparent mishap has revealed more information about what happened Tuesday.

The students attending a summer childcare program at Sitʼ Eeti Shaanáx̱ Glacier Valley Elementary School in Juneau were given the sealant Tuesday at breakfast, and started complaining about the taste and a burning sensation in their mouths and throats almost immediately, the school district said.

Twelve children and two adults each drank up to 3 ounces of the sealant. All 12 students were recovering Wednesday evening, and some had fully recovered, the district said.

The original error was traced back to the spring of 2021, when one pallet of the sealant was delivered to a school district food warehouse mistakenly at the same time as four pallets of shelf-stable milk, the district said.

This week, district contractor Nana Management Services "ran short on milk," the district said, and sent workers to the district's warehouse to retrieve more of it early on Tuesday.

Of three schools that each received one box of floor sealant mistaken for milk, only one used it: Sitʼ Eeti Shaanáx̱ Glacier Valley Elementary School, the district said.

Glacier Valley Elementary School in Juneau, Alaska. (Google Maps)
Glacier Valley Elementary School in Juneau, Alaska. (Google Maps)

The district has not named any of the individuals involved, but said one Nana Management Services worker poured the sealant as milk and other staffers put it on food trays.

"The NMS worker took the box of floor sealant and poured its contents into cups to be served at breakfast," the Juneau district said. "Breakfast was prepared by NMS staff and placed on food service trays, which students brought to a cafeteria table to eat."

The "slightly scented" liquid somewhat resembles milk, the district said.

It wasn't clear if workers involved in the mix-up would face discipline or other measures.

Nana Management Services disputed some of the district's narrative, saying that it ordered a new shipment of milk after the district's supply under a $100,000 grant ran out but it had not arrived, said Dawn Kimberlin, the contractor's vice president of marketing and communications.

A backup plan included bringing in milk by barge from Seattle, she said, but that delivery included the sealant, which the contractor believes was ordered by, or intended for, the district.

"They delivered floor sealant with food supplies which was not noted on the delivery slip," Kimberlin said by email. "NMS did not identify the sealant because it looked like 'milk,' and the district did not identify they were missing sealant."

The contractor also said packaging is in flux as a result of the pandemic's supply chain woes. While milk was usually in individual servings, handlers were used to seeing different shapes and sizes as solutions, making identification of the sealant amid milk more difficult, Kimberlin said.

"This is no excuse, but it sheds light on the work environment," she said.

The district is contending with fallout from the incident, and said some parents found out about the mix up from other parents, not from the district directly.

"The district is examining emergency communication protocols for quicker parent notification," it said.

The rest of the sealant has been removed from the warehouse, and state food safety officials have inspected the district's facilities, it said.

The investigation into what happened Tuesday is ongoing.