Cobb schools’ hand-rinsing stations malfunctioned more than 100 times

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Credit: Jenni Girtman

The Cobb County School District has spent almost $10 million on hand-rinsing machines, but many of them have had trouble operating, according to records obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The machines have malfunctioned or stopped working more than 100 times, according to district records received by the AJC through the Georgia Open Records Act. More than half of the district’s elementary and middle schools have submitted at least one maintenance request relating to the machines.

Most of the requests just said the machines were not working. More than a quarter said the machines were leaking.

Parents and district employees say many machines, called Iggy, aren’t being utilized or aren’t functioning. At a September school board meeting, parent and member of Watching the Funds-Cobb Heather Tolley-Bauer shared a photo of a hand-rinsing machine that was sealed off so no one could use it.

“You know how they say a picture’s worth a thousand words? This one’s worth $14,500,” she said, referencing the cost of a single device. “It is not an isolated case.”

“We often get comments from parents, like the one who sent us this picture, who say their kids are being told not to use Iggy; they’re prevented from using it because it looks like this; or it just doesn’t work, as my son told me,” Tolley-Bauer told the school board.

Credit: Photo provided by Watching The Funds-

Credit: Photo provided by Watching The Funds-

School Board Chairman David Chastain said questions about the hand-rinsing stations should be directed to the superintendent, but said the devices were part of the district’s effort to provide health and safety measures after the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The bigger challenge during the pandemic was not COVID,” he said. “It was fear.”

A Cobb spokeswoman said Superintendent Chris Ragsdale or Chief Technology and Operations Officer Marc Smith were not available for an interview. She did not return an additional request for comment.

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The hand-rinsing devices incorporate a low concentration of aqueous ozone in the stream of water it sprays onto a user’s hand. The website for 3Oe Scientific, the company that provides the devices, says aqueous ozone kills the virus that causes COVID-19. Some experts think there’s not enough evidence yet to confirm that. The district used federal pandemic aid on the purchases in an effort to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Schools put in 129 work orders to the district for the hand-rinsing stations through September, according to records obtained by the AJC.

Some schools had submitted multiple work orders. Rocky Mount Elementary in Marietta submitted 15 work orders, for example — nine of which referenced the same machine.

Credit: Photo provided by Cobb County School Distric

Credit: Photo provided by Cobb County School Distric

Some of the work orders requested maintenance for multiple machines at a single school, like one from Tritt Elementary in Marietta that references three different devices having problems.

“Finally, how do we know if (they’re) working (correctly)?” the request finishes.

In an email to the AJC, 3Oe Scientific said it could not disclose information about its customers, but added that it provides warranty services for free. Schools, municipalities, corporate offices and warehouses in 10 states use the hand-rinsing devices, the company said.

“We stand by our product,” the statement said.

A summary of purchase orders obtained by the AJC shows the district has spent more than $9.7 million to obtain and install the machines. The district has purchased more than 650 of the devices since 2020, purchase orders and procurement documents from the district indicate. The purchases began in December 2020. The most recent purchase was on Sept. 1.

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The district’s purchase of the machines in part prompted an investigation into the district’s spending practices. A grand jury found the district had a “clear pattern” of not following its own purchasing policies.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has long recommended hand-washing as an effective way to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. It recommends the use of hand-washing devices that use soap where water access is limited.

A middle school nurse who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation told the AJC there isn’t a situation where she would recommend a student use the hand-rinsing devices instead of washing their hands.

“I haven’t heard from anyone that says they’re glad we spent money on that,” she said. “It’s useless.”

From the work orders

These are some of the comments placed in Cobb County School District work orders about some of its hand-rinsing machines.

  • Only half of the new hand washing units are working. (Chalker Elementary)
  • Iggy in cafe will not turn on. This is the third work order I have submitted and they get closed out as “work completed” but will not turn on. (Compton Elementary)
  • Iggy machine near the cafeteria was leaking water and one of the two is now not working at all. (Pitner Elementary)