(Beyond Pesticides, March 9, 2009) In the waning days of the 2009 legislative session, the Virginia General Assembly unanimously passed a weakened school Integrated Pest Management (IPM) bill that creates a statewide, voluntary school pest management program. While the law will increase public awareness of the antiquated practice of routine pesticide applications at school facilities, it does not mandate a change in practices.
The legislation provides information to school districts on IPM that “minimizes the use of pesticides and the risk to human health and the environment associated with pesticide applications.” Beyond Pesticides advocates pesticide use reduction and elimination strategies and only the use of “least-toxic” pesticides as a last resort. Experience shows that school pest management must emphasize pest prevention and management strategies that exclude pests from the school facility through habitat modification, entry way closures, structural repairs, sanitation practices, natural organic management of playing fields and landscapes, other non-chemical, mechanical and biological methods, and the use of the least-toxic pesticides only as a last resort.
School is a place where children need a healthy body and a clear head in order to learn. Children are especially sensitive to pesticide exposures as they take in more pesticides relative to their body weight than adults and have developing organ systems that are more vulnerable and less able to detoxify toxic chemicals. Even at low levels, exposure to pesticides can cause serious adverse health effects. Numerous studies document that children exposed to pesticides suffer elevated rates of childhood leukemia, soft tissue sarcoma and brain cancer. Studies also link pesticides to childhood asthma, respiratory problems, and inability to concentrate.
The Virginia IPM bill, HB 1836, was originally written to require all school districts in Virginia adopt an IPM program that would help protect children and staff from unnecessary pesticide use and exposure at schools, while at the same time eliminating pest problems. The bill was amended in the House Agricultural Committee to only provide information to school districts on IPM, not require it, and it slightly weakened the definition of IPM. One benefit that came out of the amended version of the bill is the requirement for all school districts to keep complete records on the pesticides that are applied in schools.
Children’s health and environmental advocacy groups support IPM in schools as it has proven to be an effective and economical method of pest management that, when done right, can eliminate pest problems and the need for hazardous pesticides to be used in school buildings or on school grounds. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National PTA, among others, recommend schools adopt IPM programs in order to significantly reduce pests and pesticide risk.
According to Beyond Pesticides research, 14 states (IL, KY, LA, ME, MD, MA, MI, NJ, NY, NC, OH, PA, TX, and WV) require schools adopt an IPM program and 7 states (CA, CT, MN, MT, VT, FL, and RI ) recommend schools adopt IPM programs. Without federal legislation like the proposed School Environment Protection Act (SEPA) http://www.beyondpesticides.org/schools/sepa/index.htm, school IPM adoption will likely remain spotty across the country as it is now.
IPM practitioners have cited great successes with managing pests, eliminating pesticide use, and large cost savings to school districts that utilize IPM practices. Such policies and programs have been adopted in hundreds of localities across the country. Currently in Virginia, a number of school districts in the state have some level of an IPM program, including Fairfax County Public Schools, the largest district in the state.
If the Virginia Legislature truly wanted to protect children from pests and toxic pesticide exposure, they would require schools adopt a strong IPM program, ban the use of toxic pesticides for aesthetic purposes, and prohibit the use of certain hazardous pesticides, such as probable, possible or known carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, reproductive toxins, developmental toxins, neurotoxins, and toxicity category I and II pesticides.
For more information about school pesticide use and safer pest management strategies, see Beyond Pesticides Children and Schools program page.