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Federal Legislation Introduced to Protect Children from Toxic Pesticide Use at Schools; New Study Documents State Progress in the Adoption of Safer School Pest Management Policies

(Beyond Pesticides, December 2, 2009) Cancer causing pesticides … endocrine disruptors … pesticides linked to neurological and immune system problems … asthma and learning disabilities. Federal legislation, the School Environment Protection Act of 2009, was introduced yesterday in Congress to protect children from toxic pesticides and pest problems with safer alternatives. The sponsors seek to end unnecessary toxic pesticide use in the nation’s schools, replacing it with safe management techniques and products.

When children attend school, it is assumed that they are going to a safe environment, free of toxic chemicals that could harm them. New legislation seeks to make this assumption a reality. With the introduction of the School Environment Protection Act of 2009 (SEPA), H.R. 4159, members of Congress and public health, school employee, children’s health and environmental groups are saying that it is time to stop the unnecessary use of dangerous chemicals and assist schools in the adoption of safer strategies to prevent and manage pest problems. U.S. Representative Rush Holt and 14 of his colleagues put the legislation forward with the foundation of more than a decade of state and local school pest management and pesticide use policies and on-the-ground experience from across the country.

SEPA requires that all public schools adopt integrated pest management (IPM) programs that emphasize non-chemical pest management strategies and only use defined least-toxic pesticides as a last resort. Least-toxic pesticides do not include pesticides that are carcinogens, reproductive and developmental toxicants, nervous and immune system poisons, endocrine disruptors, or have data gaps or missing information on health effects. Also excluded from the definition are outdoor pesticides that adversely affect wildlife, have high soil mobility, or are groundwater contaminants. The legislation prohibits synthetic fertilizers from being used on school grounds due to their adverse impact on healthy soils, plants, and turf, and associated environmental impacts. A public health emergency provision allows the use of a pesticide, if warranted. In this case, notification of the pesticide application is required to be provided to all parents and guardians of students and school staff. Cleaning agents with pesticides fall under the bill’s purview. The legislation establishes a 12-member National School IPM Advisory Board that, with the help of a technical advisory panel, will develop school IPM standards and a list of allowable least-toxic pesticide products. In addition, under the language each state is required to develop its IPM plan as part of its existing state cooperative agreement with the U.S. EPA.

School is a place where children need a healthy body and a clear head in order to learn. Numerous scientific studies find that pesticides typically used in schools are linked to chronic health effects such as cancer, asthma, neurological and immune system diseases, reproductive problems, and developmental and learning disabilities. Children’s bodies are especially vulnerable when exposed to pesticides, even at low levels. IPM in schools has proven to be an effective and economical method of pest management that can prevent pest problems and eliminate the use of hazardous pesticides in school buildings and on school grounds.

In a newly released report, The Schooling of State Pesticide Laws –2010 Update, Beyond Pesticides finds that 21 states recommend or require schools to use IPM, a 24 percent increase since the original report was written in 1998. While this growth is occurring and other measures are being taken to provide written notice prior to pesticide use (24 states, a 30 percent increase), the majority of school children continue to be exposed to toxic pesticides while at school. Beyond Pesticides finds that only 35 states have taken limited action to step in and provide protective measures to address pesticide use in, around or near their schools. These include a mixture of pesticide restrictions and parental notification and posting of signs before certain pesticides are used. Protection under state laws is uneven across the country and children in 15 states are provided no protection at all.

“We applaud Rep. Holt and the cosponsors of this legislation for leading the nation on a course that recognizes that children and teachers are best served by a learning environment that does not expose them to toxic pesticides,” said Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides.

“Our nation must and can do a better job of protecting our children from diseases and illness that are caused because of chemical exposure,” said Kagan Owens, senior project associate at Beyond Pesticides. “We can start by protecting children in the place where they spend most of their young lives – school.”

A bill summary, list of initial bill supporters, and a copy of The Schooling of State Pesticide Laws –Update 2010 are available from Beyond Pesticides. See also Children and Pesticides Don’t Mix for scientific articles linking pesticide exposure to adverse effects in children. See Press Release. For more information, contact Jay Feldman or Kagan Owens at Beyond Pesticides, 202-543-5450.


8 Responses to “Federal Legislation Introduced to Protect Children from Toxic Pesticide Use at Schools; New Study Documents State Progress in the Adoption of Safer School Pest Management Policies”

  1. 1
    Sonya Says:

    I am wondering how a group or individual can “sign on” or register support for this important legislation.

  2. 2
    Beyond Pesticides Says:

    Sonya, thanks for your support! You can simply send an email with your information/name of your group to [email protected].

  3. 3
    Michael Merchant Says:

    Doing IPM in schools is the right thing to do. But this current legislation is not supported by most professionals working to implement safer and better pest control for school districts. For one thing, it will pre-empt even the most comprehensive school IPM programs in the country–laws that have been painstakingly developed over years in coordination with regulators, schools, IPM experts and the public. The bill would in practice eliminate nearly all pesticides, except the most primitive products with limited usefulness, for any purpose except public health emergencies. A good thing you say? This would leave schools with few alternatives for termite control, nuisance pest control and turfgrass management. Telling schools that they must do IPM and like it, while at the same time taking away all the best pest management tools in their tool boxes will not make IPM successful. Indeed this approach runs counter to the IPM concept which emphasizes use of multiple control tactics. In Texas we’ve chosen a route that does not ban any pesticide that might be needed, but provides incentives to use fewer and lower toxicity insecticides. The result, after 15 years of implementation, is enthusiasm among schools to jump on the IPM bandwagon, use of fewer and safer pesticides, and better pest control. Indeed, over 200 Texas school IPM coordinators met last month to form their own voluntary association dedicated to keeping schools safer, cleaner and pest-free. This is tremendous progress when I recall the low-priority, chemically intensive approach to pest control most Texas schools took just a few years ago. Instead of resubmitting the same impractical, unpopular and expensive bill year after year and watching it die in committee, Beyond Pesticides, Rep. Holt and others should consult with states and figure out a way to provide us with a simple bill that requires licensing of all school pesticide users (a very basic requirement still needed in many states) and mandates states to develop their own incentives-based IPM programs–which they can design. If there is ever going to be progress in this area, this is the way to go.

  4. 4
    Beyond Pesticides Says:

    This is what we hear everyday. Parents do not want their children exposed to chemicals that cause cancer, asthma, neurotoxic and immune system effects, endocrine disruption, developmental disabilities and more . . .especially when they are not necessary. And it is not just Beyond Pesticides that is hearing it. Towns and cities across the country, schools, hospitals and homeowners want the same thing. The great thing is that it is possible today to manage buildings and grounds without pesticides that cause these effects.

    The School Environment Protection Act is based on practitioners’ experience managing buildings and grounds without the hazardous pesticides that Mr. Merchant says are necessary. While Mr. Merchant focuses on the pesticide products, these managers are focused on the systems in place that exclude unwanted organisms from their site, by managing sanitation, harborage, entryways and conducive conditions that enable pest problems. Yes, sometimes a pesticide product will be necessary. The question is which ones. Here is where SEPA utilizes modern approaches, green chemistry on the cutting edge of technology that has made the chemicals that Mr. Merchant doesn’t want to lose obsolete. He refers to this new modern technology as “the most primitive products with limited usefulness.” I think if you ask the companies that are out in the marketplace selling services to parents and other customers that are looking for “green” services, they will tell you that they have all kinds of modern tools in the tool box, from mechanical, biological, to chemical products derived from natural substances that meet the standards of SEPA and work just fine when they are needed. But, the great thing, is that these same folks will tell you that if an IPM program is operating effectively with all the systems in place, they simply do not need to use much pesticide product at all.

    IPM is an evolving methodology. Years ago IPM practitioners did not differentiate among all the pesticides available in the marketplace. They were highly dependent on very hazardous materials, except they only used them when their monitoring told them it was necessary. So, in most cases, even the most chemical-dependent IPM system was still dependent on chemical products. Today’s IPM system that are a part of the “green” movement and not stuck on pesticide-dependency put much more emphasis on practices and management and only use selected products as a last resort. As a result, many are finding that pesticide products become the exception rather than the rule and when they use them, as a last resort, they rely on “green” products that meet the health and environmental screen in SEPA.

    We told three decades ago by many at that time in extension, many like Mr. Merchant, or as he says, “most professionals working to implement safer and better pest control,” that organic was impossible to commercialize, that it was unrealistic, that it “takes away the best pest management tools,” and now it is over a $20 billion industry with increasing support from extension and practitioners worldwide.

    SEPA is cutting edge legislation that embraces the experiences across the country where schools and communities have rejected the old arguments of Mr. Merchant and are meeting the challenges of land and building management with new and creative approaches that manage pests and protect the health and environment at the same time. Don’t believe those who tell us that we cannot survive without hazardous pesticides.

  5. 5
    Charlote Wells Says:

    The school IPM law is not protecting the majority of children and teachers in Texas. Mr. Merchant says 200 out of 1,032 school districts voluntarily practice safer pest management and that simply is NOT good enough. He says IPM is working in Texas and I disagree. When we tried to locate the IPM Coordinator in Houston ISD, the largest district in our state, he/she was nowhere to be found. This was after a Pre-K teacher found ant killer in what they intended to be an organic vegetable garden. A contracted company applied granules without consulting the teacher. If the IPM coordinator is the foundation on which Texas school IPM program is based then the school district should be able to locate the coordinator in one phone call.

    Many thanks to Beyond Pesticides for your perseverance and continuing to submit this very important legislation.

  6. 6
    m Says:

    Why are they putting “ant granules” around your school in the 1st place!!!!!!!!!!!

  7. 7
    m Says:

    This cavalier attitude is typical of what I have encountered when trying to get help after my child was repeatedly poisoned by ornamental pesticides:


    WAKE UP, all the “registered pesticides,” and herbicides for that matter are unsafe for children! How any ill people out there can attribute being “sensitized” by pyrethroid exposure!

    Children should able to learn in a safe environment and we as parents need to demand that!

    We should not tolerate being scoffed at and put off by “professionals” who perpetuate the myth that these products are safe!

    The suffering and damage caused by this stuff to pets and children across the country has been happening for years and as a health professional, and mother I can’t just sit by silently!

    I have a little ten year old who deserves better than this and who has suffered needlessly! A child that I worry about each minute he is away from his controlled environment, in the fear that some shallow minded person who actually believes the stuff is safe might spray it around him! I have spent more than one time in an ER wondering how many more of my son’s brain cells are being killed1

    So excuse me for not sitting idly by while someone who has no care or clue as to the impact of this poison on children can make fun of the efforts of others to try safer pest control! I think not!!!!

  8. 8
    m Says:

    I meant to say how many can attribute their illnesses to pyrethroid exposure, a KNOWN sensitizer!

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