Government-Mandated Instrument Sterilization – Coming Soon To YOUR State?!

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Undoubtedly over the course of the past few weeks you have seen the posts going around on Facebook and other social media outlets as well as some news services about the state legislature of Massachusetts requiring the sterilization of all school-owned band instruments.  As can be imagined this has caused quite an uproar amongst Massachusetts music educators (and others around the country) concerned about how this will be funded as well as the effects on programs where students are required to share instruments.  It has generated the typical “doom-sayers” that claim their programs will simply disappear and others who see it as a great thing – as long as their program isn’t having to pay for it out of their budget!  There are also many claims of a politician helping out a “buddy” through this bill – it turns out that apparently only company in the U.S. offering an instrument sterilization service happens to be a constituent of the representative that wrote and is sponsoring the bill!


As usual knowledge defeats the fanatics and after doing a minimal amount of “digging” I found the current bill.  It’s not very long and is certainly worth a quick read HERE.  In a nutshell it has two main points:

– Before an instrument is checked out to a student the parent or guardian must be informed that the instrument has been “sanitized” (i.e. cleaned – chem flushed, bathed, swabbed out, take your pick), and can ALSO be “sterilized” on the request of the parent or guardian.

– The cost for the sterilization will be paid by the PARENT OR GUARDIAN making the request.

While this does solve the financial issue it doesn’t solve the problem of how to handle sharing of instruments.  Ah, well – we’ll let the politicians sort that one out.

I, for one, don’t think this thing has a prayer of passing in Massachusetts or any other state for that matter.  What I believe we should be doing is focusing more the question – do instruments need to be sterilized???

I think that for many reasons instruments need to be cleaned – it helps to keep them working better, it protects them from damage from dirt particles in key mechanisms, and dezincification of the brass and harm to the finish.  Honestly – who wants their kid playing on an instrument with green stuff growing out of it or recycled Dr. Pepper on the pads?

I am no medical expert but through my teaching and now instrument repair careers I have seen a LOT of students and a LOT of nasty, disgusting instruments but I can’t recall seeing a student become ill from playing on one.  That’s not to say it couldn’t happen but it seems very unlikely.

The bottom line is that I believe instrument sterilization is a very costly and unneeded procedure.  Keeping instruments clean by performing responsible, regular maintenance and having them chemically cleaned and/or serviced regularly will take care of both the instrument and the player.

If you would like more information on this topic I will point you to a GREAT article directly addressing instrument sterilization by Ken Skitch on the NAPBIRT website HERE.