(Beyond Pesticides, August 28, 2014) Itâs back to school time again, which for many of our readers and parents across the country means the unnerving possibility of hazardous pesticide exposure at school from well-intentioned but misguided attempts to create a germ and pest-free environment. Because children face unique hazards from pesticide exposure due to their small size and developing organ systems, using toxic chemicals to get rid of pests and germs harms students much more than it helps. Fortunately, parents and teachers have many options for safer techniques and strategies to implement a pest management program at schools without relying on these toxic chemicals. Additionally, schools can further their studentsâ education beyond the lessons of the text book by providing habitat for wildlife and growing organic food in a school garden.Â By going organic, your childâs school can become a model for communities across the nation.
Beyond Pesticides has put together this back-to-school checklist of programs and steps you can take to ensure that you are sending your kids back to a healthier and safer environment.
Get Organized and Improve Your Schoolâs Pest Management Program
Whether youâre a parent, community activist, landscaper, school administrator or employee, use these steps to help successfully eliminate harmful pesticides from your local school. For more details, see our School Organizing guide.
- Identify the schoolâs pest management policy. You may be surprised to learn that your school is already making strides to prevent pesticide use in your school district, or that there are state or local policies in place that help safeguard your child from pesticides. Contact the appropriate school personnel to find out if and how applicable policies are being implemented by identifying what pest management controls the school is using, the pesticides used, and the notification program.
- Educate yourself and evaluate the program. Use Beyond Pesticidesâ resources to learn about toxic chemical use and arm yourself with information about alternatives. See a Webinar featuring Beyond Pesticidesâ executive director, Jay Feldman, Webinar: Effective Policies to Reduce Exposures to Pesticides in Schools.
- Organize the school community. Identify and contact friends and neighbors, teachers, staff, individuals and organizations who care about pesticide use at your school. Itâs much easier to change policies with allies! Once you have a core group of individuals, develop and present a proposed policy for the school district to adopt.
- Work with school decision-makers. Contact appropriate school officials and ask for endorsement of the proposed policy. Itâs important that your organic pest management program include a written policy adopted by the school districtâs board to ensure that the program is institutionalized and will continue to flourish years after key organizers leave the district.
- Become a watchdog and establish an integrated or organic pest management committee. Make sure the school district is on track to improve its practices. Creating a committee to oversee the program helps ensure that the program is successfully implemented.
In addition, here are some other areas where you can improve the health of your school:
Fight Germs Without Triclosan
Because of its link to adverse health effects â including asthma, cancer and learning disÂabilities, triclosan has no place in the classroom. Beyond Pesticides has generated extensive documentationÂ of the potential human and environmental health effects of triclosan and its cousin triclocarban. Be sure your childâs school does not use antibacterial soaps; regular soap and water is just as effective at getting rid of bacteria.
Itâs easy to avoid triclosan. Read the product label, whether itâs a backpack, school supplies, soap or sanitizer for any label statement that says âantibacterial,âor âantimicrobial protection.â Due to public pressure, many companies have reformulated their products without triclosan, and earlier this year, the state of Minnesota took critical steps to protect their residents from exposure to triclosan by banning the chemical in personal care and cleaning products.
Subtract Triclosan from the Equation: Tell your principal that you are concerned about the use of antibacterial soap and its impact on the health of the students and staff. Ask that the school order regular soap from its usual janitorial product supplier and that all cleansers and sanitizers used by the school be triclosan-free. Materials on the health impacts of triclosan are available at Beyond Pesticides. Sign the pledge and go triclosan-free.
Feed Children Organic Food
The American Academy of Pediatricians has stated that foods without pesticide residues are significant for children. If you are unable to eat all organic, purchase organic varieties of the foods you and your kids eat most often. For information on how to eat feed your family organic affordably, download Beyond Pesticidesâ handy bi-fold brochure. You can also increase the amount of organic food your child eats while decreasing his or her exposure to toxic pesticides and lessening your impact on the environment by asking your school to adopt an organic lunch program or helping to start an organic school garden. For more information, on why eating organic is the right choice, see Eating with a Conscience.
Itâs easiest to go organic when you grow organic. School gardens and other farm-to-school programs teach children where food comes from and establish healthy relationships with food and the natural world. An organic garden starts with healthy soil using natural sources of fertility such as compost, and schools have a great built-in source of potential compost feedstock in kitchen scraps and cafeteria leftovers. See âSchool Lunches Go Organic,â and âThe Organic School Garden,â for more information.
Care About Kids
Early in 2013, EPA announced its decision to cancel the registration of 12 rodenticide products manufactured by Reckitt Benckiser LLC, the manufacturer of d-CON products. The company announced that it will stop production of rodent baits containing second generation anticoagulant rodenticides by the end of this year; however, retailers will be allowed to continue to sell these dangerous products until supplies are exhausted. The rodenticide products slated for cancellation pose significant risks to human health, and children are particularly susceptible to these risks because they play on floors and explore by putting items in their mouths, which can include loose rat poisons like d-CON. Because these products can still be found on the shelves of Walmart and several other national retailers, despite regulatory action to remove these products from the market, Beyond Pesticides has urged major retailers to stop selling these highly toxic rodenticides. Be sure that your school does not use these harmful rodenticides, by utilizing alternative measures to prevent rodent problems, including sealing gaps around the doors by replacing worn thresholds and weather stripping, and installing door sweeps, as well as caulking openings around water pipes, electric wires, cables, and vents. There are also many baits traps on the market that do not utilize toxic chemicals.Â For more information, go to Beyond Pesticides Care for Kids rodenticide page.
Pollinators are very important to our ecosystem and agriculture. However, many pollinators, like honey bees, bumble bees, birds, and butterflies, are declining due to loss of habitat, widespread use of toxic pesticides, parasites, and disease. You and your school can play a part to help these important creatures by (1) not using toxic pesticides, (2) planting pollinator habitat, and (3) educating your friends and family.
Have your school pass a resolution to ban neonicotinoid pesticides that are toxic to honey bees and other pollinators. Vermont Law School recently passed a resolution to go neonicotinoid-free, and you can see our model resolution can be obtained here. If you school has pollinator-friendly habitat, pledge your school as pollinator-friendly and indicate how many acres (or fraction of an acre) your school can declare.
Build Biodiversity: from the School Grounds to the Classroom
Biodiversity helps bees and other pollinators; diverse plants produce a supply of nectar throughout the growing season, and biodiversity of soil organisms promotes healthy plants that grow well without poisons. Protect biodiversity through organic turf, playing fields and landscape policies. Encourage your school to plant pollinator-attractive plants in its garden as part of its biology class. If your school does not have a garden, request one be integrated into the curriculum. Wildflowers, native plant and grass species should be encouraged on school grounds. See our BEE Protective Habitat Guide for more information on attractive flowers. Also see our Do-It-Yourself Biodiversity factsheet and Managing Landscapes with Pollinators in Mind for resources on how you can help build biodiversity.
Healthy Turf = Healthy Kids
Many school schools around the country are realizing that a well-defined integrated or organic pest management program is one of the best ways to eliminate childrenâs exposure to pesticides in school buildings, and organic turf management, similarly, eliminates hazards on playing fields and playgrounds. A good program will have strictly defined processes of prevention, monitoring and control, as well as record keeping, which offers the opportunity to eliminate harmful pesticides in schools, where only the least toxic option is used.
Improving a schoolâs pest management program requires perseverance, as administrators and grounds staff may be uninformed. One major selling point is that, when it comes to playing fields, organic turf management systems cost as much as 25% less than chemical-intensive systems. Learn more about the 30 of the most commonly used chemicals on athletic fields that can cause numerous health risks to children, including glyphosate (Roundup) and 2,4-D. Also see organic management of school fields in our Pesticides and Playing Fields fact sheet and the Lawns and Landscapes page.
For more information on how you can ensure a healthy school year for your child and community, see Beyond Pesticidesâ Children and Schools page.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.