Schools’ pesticide use may put students in danger
Shift to safer program slow to catch on in Ohio
By Dale Dempseye-mail address: email@example.com Dayton Daily News
Pam Apple's son Matthew came home from school one day with an odd coloring to his skin.
"Sort of a pasty look," she said.
Matthew was also suffering from nose bleeds and leg cramps.
What Apple and her son did not know was that the Tri-County North school Matthew attended at the time had been treated with the pesticide Dursban just a half-hour before the school bell rang.
Tri-County North was already having problems with the Preble County school's ventilation system, which trapped the harmful fumes of the pesticide.
"Once he was taken out of school he got better," Apple said.
That was nearly a decade ago, and the chemical industry and the U.S. Environmental Protection agency have recently reached an agreement to phase out Dursban, which has been commonly used in schools for the past 30 years.
However, pesticide use in U.S. schools is still very much an issue.
A study by the National Cancer Institute indicates that exposure to pesticides can increase the risk of childhood leukemia as much as sevenfold. Pesticides also have been linked to suppressed immune and nervous systems. The effects can show up later in life.
The American Medical Association has said that while the connection between pesticides and disease is still partially unclear, now is not too soon to start taking preventative action.
Of the 48 pesticides commonly used in schools, 22 can cause cancer, according to the National Academy of Science and the U.S. EPA's list of known carcinogens. Dursban has been replaced with other pesticides, which can control the rodents and other pests that can infest any large building. However, those pesticides also are harmful to humans.
The effect on children can be greater than on adults, because of their smaller body size and more frequent breathing, scientists say.
The education bill being considered in committee by the House and the Senate at one time contained a provision called the School Environment Protection Act of 2001, which would require that states develop pest management plans for schools, require notification of children and parents of pesticide applications and adopt safer practices.
"It would be a huge step forward," said Jane Forrest Redfern of Ohio Citizen Action.
But the school environmental act was removed from the education bill on Friday by a one-vote margin in the joint House-Senate committee. U.S. Rep. John Boehner, R-West Chester, voted against it, while Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, voted for it.
The provision was supported not only by environmental groups, like Beyond Pesticides in Washington, D.C., but also the National PTA, the National Pest Management Association and the chemical industry. It was included in the Senate version of the education bill passed last summer, but no version of it appeared in the House bill.
A spokeswoman for Boehner said that he saw the measure as an unfunded mandate that does not achieve its goals. Boehner and other opponents in the House also believe rules on pesticide use should fall to the agricultural committee.
The Senate school environmental act strongly suggests that states and school districts adopt what is called integrated pest management, a process that can greatly reduce or eliminate the use of pesticides.
The Brookville school district has been pesticide free for the past three years since going to an integrated pest management system, according to Ken Swink, director of business operations for the district. Prior to that, the district sprayed pesticides monthly.
"It was a voluntary decision on our part," Swink said. "But the health advantages were obvious."
Brookville officials were sold on the pest management program by Get Set, a pest control company from Grand Rapids, Mich. "A lot of it is just common sense, but some of it at first seemed off the wall," Swink said. "You tighten and seal all your door thresholds, use proper sanitation and keep food areas and locker rooms immaculately clean. They do have these things that look like purple plates, that use ions to drive away pests. We did kind of wonder when we saw those." Twenty-nine states have passed laws similar to the one in the Senate education bill, requiring notification and a pest control plan. Thirteen states require that schools use an IMP program. Ohio is not among them.
"Michigan is five years ahead of us," Swink said.
Ohio requires that public school employees who supervise the use of pesticides be licensed. Schools are also to be notified if pesticides are used on lawns around school buildings, according to a spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Agriculture.
A survey of Ohio school administrators taken by Denison University and released in spring found that nearly 75 percent had never heard of integrated pest management as an alternative to spraying.
The study also discovered that 43 percent of schools in Ohio treat their buildings with pesticides on a monthly basis. Another 41 percent spray "as needed." Ten percent reported no use of pesticides. Only half of the state's schools keep records of pesticide use.
Few schools provide warnings before spraying, the study found.
"Our findings also indicate that schools are being relatively careless about the time that pesticides are applied in schools," the study said. "Many seem to think that applying pesticides in the evening and keeping children and others out of the area for an hour to 24 hours is sufficient to protect health."
Like the provision in the Senate education, the study recommends that schools consider an IPM program to reduce or eliminate the use of pesticides. The survey found that of the 25 percent of schools that were aware of IPM, 87 percent integrated it into the district's pest control program.
"There is no reason not to," said Citizen Action's Redfern. "It's safer and in many cases cheaper."
• Contact Dale Dempsey at 225-2270 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org