Beyond Pesticides/National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides
701 E Street, SE, Washington DC 20003
202-543-5450 (phone), 202-543-4791 (fax)
[email protected]


Contact: Jay Feldman or Kagan Owens

June 19, 2001


Children’s Pesticide Exposure to be Curtailed Under U.S. Senate Education Bill;
Historic Agreement Between Environmental, Health, Education and Labor Groups
and Chemical and Pest Management Industry On School Pesticide Use

Washington, DC, June 19, 2001 – If it becomes law, schools may become safer for children and teachers, as a result of a provision in the education bill passed last week in the U.S. Senate. The legislation, resulting from an historic agreement between organizations representing the environment, children and labor and groups representing the chemical and pest management industry and agriculture, the U.S. Senate included in its education bill legislation (adopted by unanimous consent today) to protect children from pesticides and promote safer pest management practices in schools. The legislation, the School Environment Protection Act (SEPA) of 2001, sponsored by Senator Robert Torricelli (D-NJ), is included in the Better Education for Students and Teachers Act, S.1, which amends the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

“This legislation 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 in the schools,” said Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides, a national environmental and public health organization. “The legislation resulted from a good faith effort on the part of groups normally at odds with each other to provide parents and school staff with information on pesticide use and pest management in local schools,” said Mr. Feldman. He continued, “We are pleased that the industry and public interest organizations are able to find common ground and adopt a meaningful, national, pesticide right-to-know and pest management policy.”

Thirty-one states have taken some level of action in protecting children from pesticide use in, around or near their schools, according to a Beyond Pesticides report, The Schooling of State Pesticide Laws-2000. However, state laws are uneven and inadequate across the country.

Some existing state laws have adopted standards that are tougher than some of the provisions in SEPA. However, no one state law contains all the elements included in this important piece of legislation adopted by the U.S. Senate today. Under existing state laws, 16 states require prior notification be provided to parents before a pesticide application is made to their child’s school. This new legislation will bring the other 34 states up to this minimum and essential standard. Also under existing state laws, only seven states require schools use a pest management system that relies on non-chemical and chemical strategies, focusing on alternative pest management methods and on minimizing pesticide use. SEPA will require all schools across the country to implement such pest management strategies.

“This legislation will provide parents and teachers across America with a basic level of safety and health protection,” said Kagan Owens, Beyond Pesticides program director.

The School Environment Protection Act of 2001 (SEPA):

  • requires local educational agencies to implement a school pest management policy considering sanitation, structural repair, mechanical, biological, cultural and pesticide strategies that minimize health and environmental risks as developed by the state and EPA approved;
  • requires universal notification 3 times per year (at the beginning of the school year, midyear, and once for summer session) of school pesticide use;
  • provides parents and school staff access to health and toxicity information on all pesticides used in schools;
  • establishes a registry for parents and school staff to sign-up to receive 24 hour pre-notification of a pesticide application;
  • provides information on the pesticide’s adverse health effects on the notice provided via the registry;
  • requires signs to be posted 24 hours prior to the pesticide application and remain posted for 24 hours;
  • exempts antimicrobials, baits, gels, and pastes from the notice via registry and posting requirement;
  • requires the area where a pesticide application is to take place be unoccupied;
  • requires record keeping of pesticide use and disclosure.
  • establishes 24 hour reentry period for pesticide applications made via baseboard spraying, broadcast spraying, tenting or fogging, unless the label specifies a specific reentry interval; and
  • does not preempt state or local school from adopting a policy that exceeds provisions of the act.

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 nation’s 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 nation’s 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 EPA’s 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.