Reporting Joe Shortsleeve
BOSTON (CBS) – Kids and germs go hand-in-hand, or when it comes to musical instruments, you could say mouth-to-mouth. That’s why the Somerville music department carefully cleans school-owned instruments before they are assigned to students.
“We have a bore brush to clean the bores and we sterilize the instrument,” explained Richard Saunders who heads up the music program in Somerville.
The sponsor of a bill on Beacon Hill believes all that cleaning is not enough.
“There’s some major concerns that the bacteria streptococcus and things like that are harboring inside the tubes of wind instruments,” said Representative Paul Donato.
His proposal gives communities the right to require sterilization. It’s a much more involved process than sanitizing the instrument. It’s similar to the way they clean hospital instruments and is much more expensive.
“In the history of music education, this has never been deemed as necessary,” Saunders said.
He also worries about the expense, which would run into the thousands in this case.
A leading infectious disease specialist agrees that sterilization is most likely not necessary.
“I think this sounds a bit like a solution in search of a problem,” explained Dr. Bill Shaffner.
He told the I-Team that in his 40-year career, he has never heard of a child getting sick from an instrument.
“I would think the risk is essentially zero,” he said.
The I-Team contacted the Centers for Disease Control. They too said they have no record of disease being transmitted through a musical instrument.
So what do some in the music community think is going on here?
“It seems to me that if this legislation is enacted that that company is going to make a lot of money,” Saunders said.
He’s talking about Maestro MD. The only company in Massachusetts equipped to sterilize instruments. It was founded by Lorenzo Lepore, a Medford dentist who also happens to be a longtime friend of the bill’s sponsor.
“I have known Representative Donato for decades,” he said.
After reviewing campaign finance records, the I-Team found Lepore has donated thousands over the years to Donato.
Donato told us lawmakers sponsor bills for constituents all the time. He said he has no involvement with Lepore’s business and his only motive is safety for children playing instruments.
“I’m trying to help out the parents of the children who are using musical instruments, wind instruments, to feel secure,” he says.
Dr. Lepore also said this is about safety. He cited several studies, including one he paid for himself, which show harmful bacteria can grow inside instruments. He also said that bacteria can put kids in real danger.
Lepore told us his company has yet to make a dime and he is convinced that someday, soon, science will prove him right.
“People don’t like change and I see that as one of the issues here,” he said.
This bill started out as a statewide mandate. It has been watered down and now lets school committees decide if they want to adopt this legislation requiring the sterilization.
The I-Team has learned that the bill may be further weakened, leaving the decision and the cost of sterilization up to the parents.