(Beyond Pesticides, April 1, 2008) On March 27, many distinguished environmental health and justice advocates in addition to political leaders gathered in Los Angeles, CA to express their gratitude & praised the efforts of the Los Angeles Unified School District, (2nd largest in the nation) for working cooperatively for a decade with California Safe Schools (CSS), a children’s environmental health organization in creating the most protective pesticide policy for schools in the country.
California Safe Schools (CSS) was formed by Robina Suwol in 1998, following an incident with her then 6-year-old son Nicholas, a student at Sherman Oaks Elementary School. Unaware students were present, a school gardener in a hazardous materials suit sprayed the herbicide Princep, creating a cloud of pesticide mist students were forced to walk through in order to reach their classrooms. Later, Nicholas, whose asthma had previously been under control, experienced a life-threatening asthma attack.
Ms. Suwol’s initial research on a web site sponsored by Cornell University revealed that a single exposure to Princep could be very dangerous to children, and may cause tremors, convulsions & paralysis, among other symptoms. Further investigation revealed that many chemical pesticides commonly used in schools carry significant risks to growing children specifically, increased risks of cancer, asthma, birth defects & learning disabilities.
With no litigious motives, only a desire to protect children, teachers & schoolworkers, Ms. Suwol formed CSS. With the support of LA Unified Boardmember Julie Korenstein, a committee was formed with CSS & district staff. One year to the date Nicholas became ill, LA Unified, adopted a groundbreaking policy known as Integrated Pest Management (IPM). The policy was the first in the United States to embrace the Precautionary Principle, the concept that no chemical is free from harm, unless proven so, and Right to Know. The success of the policy led to California Legislation, Healthy Schools Act 2000, and today is a national and international model for schools and communities.
“LAUSD, by working with California Safe Schools, continues to lead the nation in protecting children from pesticides and ensuring a safe learning environment,” said Jay Feldman, Executive Director of Beyond Pesticides.
On October 6, 2005, Governor Schwarzenegger signed AB 405 (Montanez) sponsored by California Safe Schools. This law closes a loophole and now protects more than 6 million California K-12 public school students, and hundreds of thousands of teachers and school employees from exposure to experimental pesticides whose health effects are yet unknown.
“We believe that all children have the human right to grow, learn and play in a toxic free environment. Advocates for Environmental Human Rights would like to congratulate California Safe Schools and the Los Angeles Unified School district for leading the effort to create an educational policy that is based on the human right to a healthy learning environment,” said Michele Roberts, Campaign and Policy Coordinator, Advocates for Environmental Human Rights, Washington, DC.
In honor of the 9th Anniversary, Honorable California Assembly Member Lloyd Levine presented awards to Los Angeles Unified School District and California Safe Schools, commemorating a decade of commitment to children’s health and the environment, beginning with the creation of California Safe Schools in 1998.
California Safe Schools also made a special presentation to LA Unified with awards designed by internationally celebrated artist Michael Bruza.
“California Safe Schools has become an indispensable “thin green line” between kids’ health and unnecessary hazards,” said Ms. Suwol. “When we all work together and provide information, alternatives, and partnership, everybody wins.”
Robina Suwol is the president of the Beyond Pesticides Board of Directors.