Student Exposure to Pesticides Eyed

OCTOBER 14, 05:35 EDT

 By H. JOSEF HEBERT Associated Press Writer

 WASHINGTON (AP) - A pest control company sprays a classroom for cockroaches, and two weeks later a student becomes ill from the chemical residue on her desk.

 Eighth-graders in gym class jog around a track, while a truck sprays herbicide onto the field a few yards away.

 As federal regulators and lawmakers begin to pay closer scrutiny to the health impact of pesticides on children, new questions are being raised about the use of toxic chemicals in schools - often without the knowledge of parents.

 Two senators and several environmental and health advocacy groups on Wednesday called for federal requirements on how schools use pesticides and require that parents be given three-day notice before any pesticide is used in or around a school.

 ``This is simply a parent's right to know,'' said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., co-sponsor along with Sen. Robert Torricelli, D-N.J., of legislation that would impose the new requirements.

 While the bill is unlikely to go anywhere in this Congress, it focused new national attention on concerns by health advocates and environmentalists about pesticide use in schools.

 Although 30 states to some extent regulate pesticides use by schools, the requirements vary widely and leave children to be ``bombarded with chemicals that cause adverse health effects,'' says Jay Feldman, executive director of the National Coalition for the Misuse of Pesticides.

 Pesticide industry representatives characterized the proposed curtailment of pesticides in schools as unwise and, itself - as one official put it - a ``threat to children'' because it would leave them exposed to variety of dangers from cockroaches and fire ants to mosquitos and ticks that transmit disease.

 ``Pesticides are safe and have a proven track record for protecting the public from dangerous pests,'' said Allen James, executive director of a group called RISE, a coalition of pesticide manufacturers and distributors.

 Ralph Engel, president of the Chemical Specialties Manufacturers Association, said parents should be notified about school pesticide use, but he opposed any suggestions that pesticides use should be reduced in schools. James said the proposed 72-hour notification would interfere in ``the timely use of pesticides.''

 Feldman said he knows of no national statistics on how many students have become ill from pesticides in schools because, he said, the issue is only now beginning to be scrutinized. The coalition estimates there are some 50 insecticides, herbicides and fungicides commonly used in and around schools and some can cause reproductive problems, neurological problems, kidney and liver damage and cancer.

 But Feldman said the group has collected anecdotal evidence such as the case in an unnamed Colorado school where girl became ill from chemical residue on her desk, and the case in another unnamed Arizona school where the pesticides were being sprayed near a class of eighth-grade joggers.

 At the news conference Wednesday, Katharina, now 10 years old, said she frequently became sick when she was in third grade. Her parents, who didn't want their last names used, said it was a year and a half before her doctor linked the illnesses to pesticide exposure at her Glenwood, Md., elementary school. The school since then has stopped using pesticides, she said.

 ``Doctors don't test for pesticides. We didn't know enough to put two-and-two together,'' said Katharina's mother, adding if she had been notified by school officials about the pesticides, she likely would have pinpointed the illness much sooner.

 Maryland last year began requiring 24-hour parental notification of pesticide use in elementary schools. A number of other states including Connecticut, also have adopted notification requirements, Feldman said.

 Most often, the symptoms found in students are dizziness, nausea, headaches, disorientation or an inability to concentrate, and often are not immediately linked to pesticide exposure, according to health experts.

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