(Beyond Pesticides, November 14, 2008) A preliminary review of pesticide poisoning complaint records kept at the Oregon State Department of Agriculture and Department of Human Services reveals that children participating in school activities have been exposed to pesticides dozens of times in the past ten years.
The review of the State’s pesticide complaint records was conducted by Oregon Toxics Alliance, a statewide organization working to protect human and environmental health. The report uses data from the Oregon Department of Agriculture, the Oregon Department of Human Services and the Oregon Department of Forestry to develop a better understanding of how and why Oregon school children are being exposed to pesticides during their school activities. The report was presented to Governor Kulongoski’s Natural Resource Advisor Michael Carrier and State School Superintendent Susan Castillo on November 10, as well as other officials and state agencies.
The data collected for the report reveals an on-going pattern of pesticide exposure to school children in classrooms, on playgrounds, on ball fields and at school bus stops. 56 separate cases of Oregon school children experiencing pesticide exposure were reported in Oregon since 1990 – 43 of them filed in the past ten years. In 14 cases, the risk from pesticide exposure was severe enough to result in school evacuations, trips to emergency rooms, and citations from a violation of state pesticide law.
Oregon Toxics Alliance undertook the study because the organization receives numerous calls from parents and teachers who express concern for children’s safety and health. Reviewing pesticide complaint logs, Oregon Toxics Alliance found that highly toxic pesticides linked to cancer, reproductive effects, and nervous system damage are routinely used in Oregon’s schools for pest control.
“This is only the tip of the iceberg,” said Lisa Arkin, Executive Director of the Alliance and author of the report. “The records under represent the actual number of pesticide poisonings at school activities because children may not know why they are feeling ill, or adults may not report an exposure to a state agency.”
A case at one elementary school illustrates this point. Teachers and young students suffered adverse health effects, including sore throats and headaches up to six days after an insecticide was sprayed in the attic and building exterior near classrooms. When schools are sprayed, the vapors and residues can linger for hours or days in an indoor environment.
According the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency fact sheet, “Pesticides and Their Impact on Children,” a child’s developing organs are less capable of detoxifying and excreting harmful chemicals than adults. This means that children experience subtle neurological effects from low-level exposures to environmental agents where adults may not.
“Oregon lacks a statewide policy to ensure safe pest management practices at schools,” said Arkin. “That is incomprehensible, because twenty-five percent of the states have already taken such action.”
Oregon Toxic Alliance is recommending that the State move quickly to reduce children’s exposure to pesticides, require comprehensive Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices in all schools and public facilities, and do more to prevent pesticides from drifting onto school grounds. To find out whether your state has an IPM policy, visit our State Pages. If you would like to develop a policy for your school or district, please contact Beyond Pesticides.