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Attention Californians: Two Actions Involving Toxics and Schools

(Beyond Pesticides, August 24, 2010) Update: The Healthy Schools Act of 2010 (SB 1157) passed the State Assembly, but on September 29, 2010, Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill which would have required all schools in California to adopt integrated pest management (IPM), using the least hazardous pesticides available. Environmental and public health groups will continue to work on the issue.

Grassroots organizations in California predict that the Healthy Schools Act of 2010 (SB 1157), a bill that would require least-toxic integrated pest management (IPM) in all California schools, could be voted on by the full State Assembly within the coming days. Environmental and public health groups are encouraging California residents to contact their members of the State Assembly, asking them to pass SB 1157 with mandatory least-toxic IPM and a mechanism for strong enforcement. In other news relating to California schools and public health, a coalition of state environmental justice organizations sent a letter to the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) expressing concern over the building of an elementary school that will serve primarily low-income students on top of a contaminated site. There is also concern that, because California’s school siting policy is considered the strongest in the country, the decision sets a bad precedent for similar projects in other states.

California Healthy Schools Act of 2010

SB 1157 would require all California schools to use least-toxic IPM and increases the state fees paid by those who sell pesticides to cover the cost of the program implementation. The legislation states that all schoolsites (excluding family daycare homes) “shall adopt an integrated pest management program [consistent with California code] as established, administered and enforced by the state Department of Pesticide Regulation” by January 1, 2014. The California Constitution requires that the state reimburse local agencies and school districts for certain costs mandated by the state. The increase in fees to cover the initial implementation would begin January 1, 2012.

California code defines IPM as “a pest management strategy that focuses on long-term prevention or suppression of pest problems through a combination of techniques such as monitoring for pest presence and establishing treatment threshold levels, using nonchemical practices to make the habitat less conducive to pest development, improving sanitation, and employing mechanical and physical controls. Pesticides that pose the least possible hazard and are effective in a manner that minimizes risks to people, property and the environment, are used only after careful monitoring indicates that they are needed according to pre-established guidelines and treatment thresholds.”

Some California activists have expressed concern that SB 1157 has been amended eight times since its introduction in February 2010. The version of the legislation described here is current as of the August 20th amendments. Beyond Pesticides encourages California residents to view the latest version of the bill here (the Legislative Counsel’s Digest provides a good summary) and let your member of the State Assembly know how you feel about the Healthy Schools Act.

According to grassroots group Californians for Pesticide Reform, nearly all Assembly Republicans oppose this bill, and 18 Democrats are on the fence. These 18 votes would most likely be needed to pass the bill. The 18 key Democrats are: Marty Block, (San Diego), (916) 319-2011; Steven Bradford, (Inglewood), (916) 319-2051; Joan Buchanan, (San Ramon, Sacramento, Walnut Creek), (916) 319-2015; Wilmer Amina Carter, (San Bernadino), (916) 319-2062; Mike Gatto (Burbank), (916) 319-2043; Alyson Huber, (Lodi), (916) 319-2010; Tony Mendoza, (Eastern LA), (916) 319-2056; Manuel V. Perez, (Imperial Valley), (916) 319-2080; Jose Solorio, (L.A.), (916) 319-2069; Tom Torlakson, (Martinez), (916) 319-2011; Norma Torres, (L.A.), (916) 319-2061; Juan Arambula (Fresno), (916) 319-2031; Anna Caballero (Salinas/Watsonville), (916) 319-2028; Charles Calderon (East LA), (916) 319-2058; Cathleen Galgiani (Stockton/Tracy/Merced), (916) 319-2017; Fiona Ma (San Francisco); (916) 319-2012; Tony Mendoza (Norwolk/Cerritos), (916) 319-2056; Mariko Yamada (Davis/Fairfield/Vacaville/West Sacramento), (916) 319-2008.

Contaminated Elementary School

A coalition of health and environmental justice groups, including California Safe Schools, concerned about the potential exposure to dangerous chemicals for teachers and students sent a letter to LAUSD board members and superintendent regarding an elementary school built on top of a contaminated site. Central School #13 (to ironically be renamed the Rachel Carson – Al Gore School of Environmental Studies), has been constructed atop contaminated groundwater and between an operating oil well and a contaminated gas station. As a Title 1 school, Central School #13 would serve low-income students. To qualify as a Title I School, 40% or more of its students come from low-income families.

The groups are concerned about the potential exposure to dangerous chemicals for teachers and students at the new school because:

• Excavation of contaminated soils is still occurring on the site, as well as treatment of contaminated groundwater, yet school starts in three weeks.
• The new school site has requested a deed restriction (restricting the construction of new buildings at the site) in an effort to reduce exposure to contaminated soil vapors.
• Unidentified offsite sources of toxic contamination are still spreading and further contaminating groundwater under the site, creating a new threat to students’ health.

The US EPA is poised to use a framework similar to California’s in its new national school siting guidance document to be released this December. Advocates are concerned that since California’s school siting laws, considered to be the most protective in the country, could allow the construction of this elementary school on such a contaminated site and that relying on them for new national guidance is not sound public policy.

For additional information on Central School #13 contact California Safe Schools, 818-785-5515.

Take Action Nationwide

It is time for a national policy that would protect every child in the United States from pesticide exposure at school. Federal legislation, the School Environment Protection Act of 2009 (SEPA), has been introduced by Rep. Rush Holt and would protect school children from pesticides used both indoors and on all school grounds nationwide. The legislation also bans the use of synthetic fertilizers. To learn more about this legislation and help its passage, see Beyond Pesticides’ SEPA webpage.


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