Recognized For Protecting Children From Toxic Pesticides
Advocates Call On State To Follow LA's Example
April 17, 2003
Van Nuys, CA - A report released today by Environment California and the School Pesticide Reform Coalition, Safer Schools: Achieving a Healthy Learning Environment with Integrated Pest Management, commends Los Angeles Unified School District as one of 27 school districts and schools in 19 states that have implemented pest management practices that do not rely on hazardous pesticides. Environment California called on school districts to adopt policies requiring the implementation of such programs, and called on state legislators to prohibit use of the most highly toxic pesticides in schools.
LAUSD has ceased use of the most highly toxic pesticides since the district passed its landmark Integrated Pest Management policy in 1999, and has cut down overall pesticide use from 136 different chemicals to only 36. The district has also stopped broadcast spraying and the use of pesticide bombs. The policy is now being used as a model for schools in California and across the country.
Safer Schools is the first report of its kind to document in detail the actual strategies schools use to decrease pesticide use while implementing more effective pest management. The report highlights case studies representing a range of program sizes from the three largest school districts in the contintental U.S. (New York City Public Schools, Los Angeles Unified School District, and Chicago Public Schools), to individual schools like Lewis Cass Technical High School in Detroit, MI.
The U.S. EPA and the National Academy of Sciences, among others, have voiced concerns about children's increased vulnerability to toxic pesticide exposure. "Children are not just 'little adults,'" said Yana Kucher, pesticides associate for Environment California, contributor to Safer Schools. "Rather, children face higher risks than adults from pesticide exposure due to their small size, tendency to place their hands close to their face, engaging in activities on or near the ground, greater intake of air and food relative to body weight, developing organ systems, and other unique characteristics," added Kucher.
Pesticide exposure can adversely affect a child's neurological, respiratory, immune, and endocrine system and has been shown to cause or exacerbate asthma symptoms. Studies show that children living in households where pesticides are used suffer elevated rates of leukemia, brain cancer, and soft tissue sarcoma. Because most of the symptoms of pesticide exposure, from respiratory distress to difficulty in concentration, are common in school children and may also have other causes, pesticide-related illnesses often go unrecognized and unreported. Adverse health effects, such as nausea, dizziness, respiratory problems, headaches, rashes, and mental disorientation, may appear even when a pesticide is applied according to label directions.
"Schools should be environmentally safe," said Robina Suwol, who led the effort with other concerned parents to pass a
pest management policy at LAUSD. "My son suffered from repeated asthma attacks while at school. After looking into what may be triggering these attacks, I was shocked to learn that LA Unified applied highly toxic pesticides on a regular basis. Since implementing the policy, my son has been asthma-free."
Integrated Pest Management, or "IPM," is a program of prevention, monitoring, and control that eliminates or drastically reduce hazardous pesticide use. In the place of carcinogens, acute toxins, neurotoxins, reproductive and developmental toxins, alternative methods such as cultural, mechanical, biological, and other non-toxic practices are utilized. Only least-hazardous chemicals are introduced as a last resort, if at all.
Since implementing its IPM policy, LAUSD has cut down from using 136 different pesticides to only 36, and those are used in the smallest effective quantities. Instead, LAUSD has implemented a series of common-sense methods to prevent pests before they become a problem. For example, LAUSD replaced routine pesticide spraying of the schools' kitchens with deep cleaning every six months—an increase from the previous schedule of once every two years—supplemented with monthly pest inspections. Garbage removal and steam cleaning of garbage bins are done more frequently, door sweeps have been installed and holes in walls have been caulked to keep pests out, and bees have been controlled with traps, such as the "Oak Stump Farm Trap". Some highly toxic pesticides have been replaced with less toxic products, such as a soapy water solution to control ants. Outside, instead of chemical herbicides, the district now removes weeds mechanically using string trimmers and is exploring the use of bio-organic weed killers like clove oil.
Many in the district are happy with the results. "We have cut back on hundreds of very toxic chemicals," says LAUSD School Board Member Julie Korenstein. "We still have a geat deal to do in order to make schools a healthy place for students and staff. However, I believe we have come a long way."
The report illustrates how a school IPM program can effectively and economically prevent and manage pest problems without hazardous pesticides and without letting pests run rampant.
Safer Schools shows that many schools throughout the country have saved money through IPM. In California, Placer Hills Union School District's pest control costs remained the same after adopting an IPM policy, and Santa Ana Unified School District saved at least $25,000 for pest control after adopting IPM. A key to cutting pest management costs is to look for long-term solutions, not temporary control, when addressing a pest problem. Pesticides do not solve the problems that have created the pest-friendly environment, they only treat the symptoms of an infestation.
National PTA and American Public Health Association have issued resolutions regarding school pesticide use and pest management, and numerous government and non-governmental organizations have resources that focus on the adoption of school IPM programs, which can be found at www.beyondpesticides.org and www.calhealthyschools.org.
In 2000, the California state legislature passed the Healthy Schools Act (AB 2260 - Shelley), which required record-keeping of pesticides used in schools, parental notification, and posting at schools when pesticides are used. The Act also adopted IPM as the preferred method of school pest control for the state. Free IPM Resources for schools have been made available through the Department of Pesticide Regulation's web site, www.schoolipm.info.
In California, Assemblywoman Judy Chu (Monterey Park) has authored new legislation, AB 1006, which would take the next step by eliminating the most highly toxic pesticides from schools. "This is a critical step in protecting the health of children and school staff from unnecessary exposure to highly hazardous chemicals," said local Assemblymember Lloyd Levine (Van Nuys), a coauthor of the bill. "Where IPM policies already exist, parents and school staff need to ensure their implementation," said Yana Kucher. "But to make sure that all students and school staff are protected from exposure to toxic chemicals, the legislature should pass AB 1006 to get toxic pesticides out of our schools." Environment California, a statewide environmental group with 50,000 citizen and student members across the state, is the new home of CALPIRG's environmental work. For more information, see www.environmentcalifornia.org.
The release of Safer Schools launches the School Pesticide Reform Coalition, coordinated by Beyond Pesticides, a coalition of local, state, and national activists that advocates for every child's and school employee's right to an environmentally healthy school. For a copy of the report and information about the School Pesticide Reform Coalition and school IPM, see www.beyondpesticides.org.