Dozens of NJ students sent to hospitals after disinfectant was found in milk cartons

Dozens of Camden students were sent to local hospitals after a “non-toxic consumer-friendly disinfectant” was discovered in milk cartons at several schools across the city, officials confirmed to NJ Advance Media on Wednesday afternoon.

At least 64 students were “affected” by the incident, school officials said. However, the Camden City School District didn’t immediately clarify whether that meant those students had taken it or were sick.

According to school district spokeswoman Valerie Merritt, more than 30 students were sent to two hospitals in the region after the colorless substance was discovered Wednesday morning.

Some students were vomiting, she said.

The report of a possible contamination came in to the Camden County Police Department about 9:09 a.m. Wednesday, police spokesman Dan Keashen said. It was not immediately known how the substance got into the boxes.

At least 25 students took the milk “from sealed boxes containing an unidentified substance that had an antiseptic odor,” Camden County officials said in a statement Wednesday night. So far, at least four schools are known to have been affected by the contaminated milk, officials said.

“This has been a scary situation, but luckily everyone exposed to the milk is in stable condition and back at school or at home,” Camden County Health Officer Paschal Nwako said in a statement. “This investigation is still ongoing and our department will get to the bottom of this situation.”

Nwako said 11 students were sent to Virtua Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital for examination and discharged later in the morning. Another 21 students were bussed with a staffer to Cooper Medical Center and also discharged earlier this morning, he said.

Students from the Early Childhood Development Center were sent to Virtua Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital and students from Riletta T. Cream Elementary School — just over 2 miles away — were sent to Cooper Hospital after the substance was discovered. County officials did not immediately say which other schools were affected.

“Others may go (to the hospital) as an extra precaution and because other affected students are being identified,” Merritt said, noting that students first discovered the substance by opening some boxes.

The milk cartoons had an “antiseptic smell that emanated from them,” Keashen said.

“Out of great caution, the students had to be sent to (local hospitals),” he added.

School officials said 95 boxes of the Guida’s Dairy milk had been withdrawn and eight were contaminated with the substance made by Vortexx. Neither the dairy nor the cleaning products companies commented immediately after the incident.

Parents were informed through “immediate robo calls, website posts and social media posts and updates,” Merritt said. “We (also) informed our food service team not to serve liquid dairy products as an abundance of caution until the investigation is complete.”

“The substance found in the boxes was determined to be a non-toxic, consumable disinfectant that runs through the vendor’s machinery before it is milked,” the district said in a series of messages on Twitter.

“We have collected all milk today and NO milk will be served until the investigation is completed. Emergency teams have been sent to the school,” the district said.

Nwako noted in a statement that school officials have been in contact with the dairy “and also identify and remove any potentially affected products.”

In addition to school officials and local law enforcement and EMT units, the Camden County Health Department, the Hazmat team, the food company, Aramark, as well as the New Jersey Department of Agriculture and Department of Education responded to the incident, Merritt said.

If you or someone you know may have been exposed to or ingested the contaminated milk, officials recommend calling the Camden County Health Department at 856-549-0530.

The incident is still under investigation, authorities said.

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Steven Rodas can be reached at: srodas@njadvancemedia.com† follow him @stevenrodasnj

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