(Beyond Pesticides, September 29, 2008) A new study by Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) confirms that school children in Florida continue to breathe air contaminated by hazardous pesticides. Air monitoring near South Woods Elementary School in Hastings detected four agricultural chemicals in the air, often at levels that pose unacceptable risks to children. The report mirrors the results of a similar study released in April 2007, confirming the existence of an ongoing problem of pesticide contamination that is more extensive than previously documented.
The new test results show that in October, November and December 2007 the air in Hastings was contaminated with the pesticides endosulfan, diazinon http://www.beyondpesticides.org/gateway/pesticide/diazinon.htm, trifluralin and chlorothalonil. Of these, two are neurotoxins, two are suspected carcinogens, and three are or will soon be banned in Europe. Endosulfan, the pesticide of greatest concern, was found in 87% of the samples, and, on several days, exceeded levels of concern.
The air monitoring was conducted by concerned area residents using a “Drift Catcher” device, a simple air sampling system that sucks air into tubes, where the pesticides are absorbed and captured. The tubes are then sent to a laboratory, where the chemicals can be identified and the concentrations measured.
“I would hope that any parent that has children attending South Woods Elementary will not look the other way,” says James B. Hunt, who owns the land adjacent to the school where the air monitoring was conducted. “I don’t think school officials can deny or discredit anyone over this issue anymore. This problem is not going to just go away, and it simply can’t be ignored any longer.” Mr. Hunt lives next to South Woods Elementary School, and authorized use of his property for the first round of air monitoring in 2006, which was conducted by high school students as a science project. He decided to continue the drift catching when he saw the lack of response from the school board when the original data was released.
Authors of the report and members of the community around the school are calling for action at the national, state and local level to protect children from exposure to these pesticides. National recommendations include a call for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to follow the lead of other countries and ban the pesticides endosulfan and diazinon, and require no-spray zones around schools. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is called on to invest in research and promotion of organic agriculture. At the state level, the report’s authors recommend that farmers be provided with funding and training to transition to organic production, laws should require that residents be informed whenever pesticides are applied, and pesticide-free zones should be put in place around schools and other sensitive sites. Locally, they suggest that school and local officials should work with farmers to reduce pesticide exposure of schoolchildren, including support for ecological pest management and application of pesticides only on days when school is not in session.
“The school district chose to purchase this property in an intensive farming area and therefore has the responsibility to address this issue with solutions that will have real impacts,” says community member Jordan Whitmire. “Everyday that these children are exposed to the chemicals is one more day of harm done to them.”
Pesticide drift is an inevitable problem in pest management strategies that rely on spray and dust pesticide formulations. Although of greatest concern is the aerial application of pesticides, where up to 40% of the pesticide is lost to drift, pesticides can also drift when applied from a truck or hand held application.
Reports in Hawaii of pesticides drifting onto school property and poisoning students have lead state lawmakers to consider legislation that would establish buffer zones around elementary schools.
This past February, California’s Tulare County Agricultural Commissioner adopted new pesticide buffer zone rules that prohibit aerial applications of restricted use pesticides within one-quarter mile of schools in session or due to be in session within 24 hours, occupied farm labor camps and residential areas. Two other counties in the state have similar requirements.
According to Beyond Pesticides’ report Getting the Drift on Chemical Trespass: Pesticide drift hits homes, schools and other sensitive sites throughout communities, seven states have recognized the importance of controlling drift by restricting pesticide applications around school properties, residential areas and other sensitive sites. State required buffer zones range from 100 feet to 2 1/2 miles, depending on the application method, pesticide type and site to be protected from potential drift.
For more information on how pesticides impact children’s health and strategies for getting pesticides out of your school, visit Beyond Pesticides’ Children and Schools webpage http://www.beyondpesticides.org/schools/.