(Beyond Pesticides, January 21, 2009) Without federal legislation mandating schools adopt safer pest management strategies, around 75% of U.S. schools continue to use hazardous pesticides. As a result, a diverse group of school pest management stakeholders have developed a new document, Pest Management Strategic Plan for IPM in Schools, that they hope will help reinvigorate the adoption of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programs, aiming for full implementation in all U.S. schools by 2015. The school IPM PSMP document is an in-depth look at the current status of school IPM, specific pest management strategies for schools to use, and actions and timelines for a coordinated effort to getting all schools adopt an IPM program. The strategic plan hinges on garnering leaders in school administration, school health, parents, teachers, custodians, food service staff, state agricultural extension staff, regulators, architects, IPM professionals and other interested individuals to help increase awareness and generate a commitment to school IPM.
A group of more than 30 professionals, including Beyond Pesticides staff, have been involved in the development process for the school IPM PSMP, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) IPM Program, the four USDA Regional IPM Centers, and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and spearheaded by the IPM Institute.
IPM programs are proven to be affordable and cost-effective. IPM can eliminate pests and pesticide-related hazards to children as it relies on pest prevention, monitoring, and control through effective education, sanitation, facility maintenance, mechanical controls, and other non-chemical methods. The least toxic pesticide is only used as a last resort after nontoxic options have been exhausted. Research and demonstration projects show that schools with IPM programs have up to 90% fewer pest problems and pest-related allergens compared to schools using pesticides as their sole method of pest management. A number of schools successfully implementing IPM can be found in Beyond Pesticidesâ€™ report, â€śSafer Schools.”
â€śWith IPM,â€ť states Dawn H. Gouge, urban entomologist with the University Arizona and co-editor of the document, â€śschool staff and faculty report cleaner, better maintained facilities and better communication within the school community.â€ť
At the heart of the document are extensive details to understanding common school pest biology, inspection and monitoring, and pest prevention that are key to successfully implementing IPM. This section of the document is an incredibly valuable tool to learning about an array of non-chemical pest management strategies. Unfortunately though, the document does not explicitly state that pesticides may be used only as a last resort in an IPM program nor does it clearly state the acute and chronic health effects of the pesticides listed in the document. Groups like Beyond Pesticides are concerned that IPM implementers using this document will be too quick to reach for potentially harmful chemicals, thus keeping school pest management programs’ status quo. Other concerns regarding the document surround the fact that toxic pesticides are listed as management tools for turf and landscape programs, yet these sites can definitely be managed without any pesticides. For example, Connecticut has passed a law that prohibits pesticides from being applied on school grounds, and several communities have begun implementing pesticide-free turf programs in the state. Examples prove that there is never a real justification or need to use pesticides in a school environment. This document should be at the forefront of the pesticide-free movement, leading schools down the path of the future, and not weakly attempting to simply reduce pesticides.
Children face unique hazards from pesticide exposure. They take in more pesticides relative to their body weight than adults in the food they eat and air they breathe. Their developing organ systems often make them more sensitive to toxic exposure. The U.S. EPA, National Academy of Sciences, and American Public Health Association, among others, have voiced concerns about the danger that pesticides pose to children. The body of evidence in scientific literature shows that pesticide exposure can adversely affect a child’s neurological, respiratory, immune, and endocrine system, even at low levels.
According to USDA, pest management practices in schools are in need of improvement; more than 50 studies have documented deficiencies, including unmanaged pest infestations, unsafe and illegal use of pesticides and unnecessary pesticide exposure. “Poor pest management and the use of pesticides can affect students’ learning abilities and long-term health, especially asthma, which is the number one cause of school absences,” states Colien Hefferan, with the USDA.
Federal agencies, such as EPA, USDA and CDC have been recommending schools adopt IPM for years with generally little impact on the number of schools adopting such programs. According to Beyond Pesticidesâ€™ research, only 11 states require schools adopt IPM programs and 7 states recommend school IPM. Beyond Pesticides report, â€śAre Schools Making the Grade?,â€ť shows that only around 26% of schools in the U.S. have IPM programs, illustrating that recommendations prove to be largely ineffective. Without federal legislation like the proposed School Environment Protection Act (SEPA), school IPM adoption will likely remain spotty as it is now. For real change, passage of SEPA is critical to moving IPM ahead. SEPA is listed in the document as one of the regulatory priorities.
Pest Management Strategic Plans (PMSPs), such as this new one, are documents commissioned by USDAâ€™s Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES) and developed by groups of stakeholders to identify needs and priorities, typically for specific commodities and regions. PMSPs are used by funders, regulators, researchers, educators and others to help identify needs worth pursuing via grant making, research, Extension, education or regulatory avenues. PMSPs are living documents, designed to be updated periodically. Feedback is welcome for the next iteration of this document as well as participation in the implementation of the plan. For updates on the plan and information on how to provide input or participate in the effort, click here. Implementation of the plan will be managed by a steering committee composed of leaders designated by the four regional school IPM working groups.
For more information about school pesticide use and safer pest management strategies, see Beyond Pesticides Children and Schools program page.