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NCAMP PRESS RELEASE
Beyond Pesticides/National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides
701 E Street, SE, Washington DC 20003
202-543-5450 (voice), 202-543-4791 (fax)
ncamp@beyondpesticides.org

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
OCTOBER 13, 1999

School Environment Protection Act (SEPA) Introduced to Protect Children From Hazardous Pesticides Used In and Around Schools

Senators Torricelli and Murray unveiled legislation today that would better protect children from pesticides used in and around schools. Groups supporting the legislation called current federal law inadequate. The new bill would institute a national standard to protect children from pesticide exposure and promote the adoption of safer approaches to pest management. Children's advocacy and environmental groups, physicians, pest control companies, parents, students and teachers joined the Senators in calling for passage of the legislation.

Washington, DC, October 13, 1999 - Senator Robert Torricelli of New Jersey and Patty Murray of Washington today unveiled the School Environment Protection Act (SEPA) to stop hazardous pesticide use in and around school buildings. The authors and supporters, including groups representing physicians, parents, teachers, environmentalists and children, say increased protected is warranted because lax federal law and heightened sensitivity of children to pesticides used in their learning environment.

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). The report found that the EPA has failed to adopt standards necessary to protect children. 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.

The School Environment Protection Act (SEPA):

  • Requires that the safest methods of pest control are used in school buildings and on school grounds to protect children. As a first step, it requires public schools to use Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approaches to pest control that only use the lowest toxicity pesticides. IPM relies on a combination of methods that address sanitation, structural repair, mechanical measures, biological controls and other non-chemical methods inside buildings and additional approaches for turf and ornamental plant management that build healthy soil and natural resistance to pests.
  • Identifies specific pesticides as acceptable under the definition of least toxic pesticides, including boric acid, silica gels, diatomaceous earth, nonvolatile insect and rodent baits in tamper resistant containers, microbe-based insecticides, botanical insecticides (not including synthetic pyrethroids) without toxic synergists, and biological controls. Excludes from use in schools pesticides that are determined by the Environmental Protection Agency to cause cancer, mutations, birth defects, reproductive dysfunction, neurological and immune system effects, endocrine system disruption, and those pesticides rated as acutely and moderately toxic.
  • Allows a school, after utilizing IPM and least toxic pesticides, to determine that a pest cannot be controlled using "acceptable" materials and to use conventional pesticides, provided that the school staff and parents of children in the school are notified 72 hours prior to use of the pesticide. In addition to the notices, signs must be posted in advance of a pesticide application and remain in place after the pesticide application.
  • Allows a school, after utilizing IPM and least toxic pesticides, to determine that a pest cannot be controlled using "acceptable" materials and to use conventional pesticides, provided that the school staff and parents of children in the school are notified 72 hours prior to use of the pesticide. In addition to the notices, signs must be posted in advance of a pesticide application and remain in place after the pesticide application.
  • Establishes a 12-member National School IPM Advisory Board to oversee (i) the implementation of the act, (ii) standards for use of least toxic pesticides, (iii) any future proposals to expand the list of least toxic pesticides, (iv) new restrictions of pesticides that may endanger children's health, and (v) a public review and comment process regarding pesticide uses affected by this act. The board includes parents, public health care and medical professionals, state IPM coordinators, independent IPM specialists, environmental and children's health advocacy groups, teachers and other school personnel and a trade organization representing pest control operators.

Thirty states have taken some level of action to step in and provide protective action to address pesticide use in, around or near their schools, according to a Beyond Pesticides/National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides (NCAMP) report, The Schooling of State Pesticide Laws (1999). Of those 30, only 16 states provide some level of protection against pesticides used in school buildings. Increasingly, communities across the country are adopting policies that take the most hazardous pesticides out of schools. However, advocates say protection in this area is generally uneven and inadequate across the country and that a minimum national standard is overdue.

Examples of incidents involving children and pesticides at schools include:

  • Charleston, South Carolina: A pesticide was sprayed into the classroom, soaking carpets and desks where students sat the next morning. The school did not notify parents until more than a month had passed and did not do a thorough cleanup until months after the spill. At least 40 children were affected by the pesticide exposure, some with long-term effects. The most common health effects experienced were aggravated asthma and coughing, peeling hands and feet, headaches and nausea.
  • Tierra Amarillo, New Mexico: A boy is sick and must stay home and out of school because of pesticides used in his school. The boy has suffered from asthma attacks, flu like symptoms, headaches, stomachaches, dizziness, and loss of appetite since the initial exposure to pesticides while attending his school. His parents took him out of school and his health improved. Because of financial reasons, his parents are having difficulties in working full time and home schooling their son.

According to pest control operators and environmentalists, the tools to control school pests without using toxic chemicals are available nationwide and have proven to be effective and economical.

"There is no reason to expose our children to hazardous pesticides," according to Jay Feldman, Executive Director of Beyond Pesticides/NCAMP. "The tools and experience are available to ensure an environmentally safe school environment for children, and SEPA will help to put them in place nationwide," he said.

Kagan Owens, Program Director of Beyond Pesticides/NCAMP said, "Children in numerous parts of the country are continually being threaten by toxic pesticides used in their schools. Not one state law fully provides the necessary level of protection needed to decrease the risk of pesticides children and staff are exposed to while attending schools. SEPA will provide a safe and healthy environment for our children to learn."

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