Bill Passes Senate with School Pest Management and Pesticide Right-to-Know
Washington, DC, February 13, 2002 The U.S. Senate included in the Farm Bill passed today legislation to protect children from pesticides and promote safer pest management practices in schools. The legislation, the School Environment Protection Act (SEPA), sponsored by Senator Robert Torricelli (D-NJ), was previously attached to the Senate Education Reauthorization Bill on a unanimous consent vote last June, but later failed by one vote in the House-Senate Education Conference Committee in November.
"We hope that the Agriculture Conference Committee will now see the importance of embracing this piece of legislation. Children, teachers and school staff deserve the basic health and safety protections that this measure would provide," said Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides, a Washington-based public interest group.
Beyond Pesticides says that there are provisions in the Farm Bill supported by the chemical industry that may be held up if it again seeks, with support of the House Agriculture Committee, to derail SEPA in conference committee. SEPA ran into opposition from House Agriculture Committee members who had previously refused to participate in negotiations on the bill last Spring.
A coalition of environmental, public health, labor, parent and teacher organizations, and groups representing the pest management and chemical industry, support the legislation, creating an historic alliance between groups often at odds with each other. Although still claiming support, chemical industry representatives refused to voice support for SEPA when it was in the education conference committee, leading to the bills derailment last year.
SEPA represents a straightforward approach to promote school pest management practices that minimize risk to children and notify and provide safety information to parents and school staff when pesticides are used by schools. If it becomes law, schools may become safer for children and teachers. There is no similar language in the House version of the Farm Bill.
With regard to the three major programmatic components of SEPA -- posting, notification and integrated pest management (IPM) -- three states, including Maryland, Massachusetts and Michigan, have statutory requirements in all three areas. Fourteen states (Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Texas, Washington, West Virginia and Wyoming) require two of the three major components in SEPA. Overall, 31 states have adopted pesticide laws that have one or more of the provisions in SEPA. Of those, twenty states require written notification, either by universal notice or a registry, and fourteen states recommend or require schools use IPM. IPM practitioners have cited large cost savings to school districts that utilize pest management practices supported by the legislation.
The School Environment
Protection Act (SEPA):
Children are among the least protected population group when it comes to pesticide exposure, according to the National Academy of Sciences report, Pesticides In the Diets of Infants and Children (1993). Children, due to their small size, greater intake of air and food relative to body weight, developing organ systems and other unique characteristics, are at higher risk than adults to pesticides. Numerous studies document that children exposed to pesticides suffer elevated rates of childhood leukemia, soft tissue sarcoma and brain cancer. Studies link pesticides to childhood asthma and respiratory problems. Scientists increasingly associate learning disabilities or attention deficit disorders with low level toxic exposure because of their affect on the central nervous system.
In fall 1999, the General Accounting Office (GAO), at the request of Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), conducted a national review of the extent to which pesticides are used in and around the nations 110,000 public schools and the magnitude of the risk of exposure to children. The GAO report, Pesticides: Use, Effects, and Alternatives to Pesticides in Schools (GAO/RCED-00-17), found that the data on the amount of pesticides used in the nations public schools is neither available nor collected by the federal and most state governments. The report also found that EPA is not doing enough to protect children from pesticides, and that there is limited information on how many children are exposed to pesticides in schools. The GAO cited EPAs analysis of the Poison Control Centers Toxic Exposure Surveillance System, documenting 2,300 school pesticide exposures from 1993-1996. Because most of the symptoms of pesticide exposure, from respiratory distress to difficulty in concentration, are common and may be assumed to have other causes, it is suspected that pesticide-related illness is much more prevalent than presently indicated.
Beyond Pesticides/NCAMP is a national, grassroots membership organization, founded in 1981, that collaborates with community-based organizations and people seeking to improve protections from pesticides and promote alternative strategies that reduce or eliminate pesticide use.