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Landmark Report Documents Safer Schools That Protect Children From Unnecessary Pesticide Exposure

(April 17, 2003) In a report released today, school administrators, staff and parents from across the country document a growing trend to adopt safer practices that dramatically reduce pesticides in the schools, providing children with a healthier learning environment, according to the authors. With descriptions of 27 school districts of all sizes from 19 states, the report, Safer Schools: Achieving a Healthy Learning Environment Through Integrated Pest Management, describes a growing commitment to adopt practices that respond to mounting evidence that pesticides pose a public health hazard while non-toxic, economically feasible pest management options are available. Spearheaded by the School Pesticide Reform Coalition and Beyond Pesticides and written by a broad group of individuals representing advocacy groups, state agencies, pest control companies, and school staff, the groups say the report will help encourage schools, states, and the federal government to put in place safer pest management programs for schools and communities nationwide.

Safer Schools is the first report of its kind to document the actual strategies schools use to decrease pesticide use while implementing more effective pest management strategies. The case studies highlighted represent a range of program sizes from the three largest school districts in the continental 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, Michigan.

Many people assume that schools are environmentally safe places for children to learn. It often takes a pesticide poisoning, repeated illnesses or a strong advocate to alert a school district to the acute and chronic adverse health effects of pesticides and the viability of safer pest management strategies. Schools that have chosen to adopt such strategies, such as an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program, use alternatives to the prevailing chemical-intensive practices because of the health risk such practices pose to children and other school users.

"Understanding how these programs take shape and the approaches used by schools and districts, as well as hurdles they had to overcome, is key to the broader adoption of successful programs across the nation," according to Kagan Owens, program director for Beyond Pesticides, a Washington-based information and advocacy group. There are many success stories around the country that, like the 27 case studies included in Safer Schools, show that IPM significantly reduces and, in some cases, eliminates the amount of pesticides used; is cost effective; and, yields better pest control results.

IPM is an approach that has been implemented in various communities, schools, and government facilities for decades. Although there are no federal laws regarding school pesticide use and pest management, there is pending federal legislation, the School Environment Protection Act (SEPA), which has been introduced in Congress and adopted by the U.S. Senate twice. There are also 13 state laws and 320 local policies, according to Beyond Pesticides' report, Are School Making the Grade, National PTA and American Public Health Association resolutions, and numerous government and non-governmental organization resources that focus on the adoption of school IPM programs, all of which can be found at www.beyondpesticides.org.

"This report further exemplifies the fact that school districts nationwide should be required to adopt an IPM policy and program in order to make sure that all students and school staff are protected from the unnecessary use of hazardous chemicals," said Ms Owens, a co-author of Safer Schools who also coordinates the School Pesticide Reform Coalition, a network of local groups across the country. "Where policies already exist, parents and school staff need to ensure their implementation," Ms. Owens said.

The vulnerability of infants and children to the harmful effects of pesticides has attracted national attention over the last decade. EPA and the National Academy of Sciences, among others, have voiced concerns about the danger that pesticides pose to children. 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.

Hard copies of the report are available by contacting Beyond Pesticides at 202-543-5450 or info@beyondpesticides.org. It can also be downloaded here.