(Beyond Pesticides, April 27, 2009) Spurred by widespread concerns about children’s environmental health in schools, an array of government entities and child health advocates are celebrating National Healthy Schools Day today with nearly forty activities planned in twenty-one states and Canada. National Healthy Schools Day, coordinated by the Healthy Schools Network, is a day to promote and celebrate healthy school environments that are conducive to learning and protect occupant health. Beyond Pesticides, a co-sponsor of National Healthy Schools Day, asks schools to immediately stop using hazardous pesticides in school buildings and on school grounds and use alternative, non-toxic methods for preventing and managing pests.
“We’re proud to join so many dedicated partners in sponsoring National Healthy Schools Day,” said Lisa Jackson, U.S. EPA Administrator. “EPA’s mission is to protect the American public where they live, work and play — and that certainly includes protecting children where they learn. Our nation’s children, parents, and educators deserve to know that their schools provide a safe and healthy environment. We encourage everyone concerned about healthy schools to use National Healthy Schools Day as a spring board to improve our school environment both indoors and out.”
The vulnerability of infants and children to the harmful effects of pesticides has attracted national attention over the last decade. Schools from across the country document a growing trend to adopt safer pest management strategies that dramatically reduce pesticides in the schools, providing children with a healthier learning environment. Schools that have chosen to adopt such strategies, such as an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program, use alternatives to the prevailing chemical-intensive practices because of the health risk such practices pose to children and other school users. A comprehensive IPM program is proven to be cost effective and yield better pest control results.
“There is no reason to expose our children to hazardous pesticides,” said Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides, in the Safer Schools report. “The tools and experience are available to ensure a safe school environment for children.”
In absence of a federal law, such as the proposed School Environment Protection Act (SEPA), some states and local school districts have attempted to provide children the protection they need from hazardous chemical exposure while at school, yet the level of protection is uneven and inadequate across the country, with the majority of children left unprotected. SEPA would provide basic levels of protection for children and school staff from the use of pesticides in public school buildings and on school grounds by requiring schools implement an IPM program, establishing a list of least-toxic pesticides to be used as a last resort, and requiring notification provisions when pesticides are used.
According to Beyond Pesticides research on state pesticide laws:
* 21 states recommend or require schools to use IPM;
* 15 states restrict when or what pesticide may be applied in schools;
* 17 states require posting of signs for indoor school pesticide applications;
* 26 states require posting of signs for pesticide application made on school grounds;
* 23 states require prior written notification to students, parents, or staff before a pesticide application is made to schools; and
* 7 states recognize the importance of controlling drift by restricting pesticide applications in areas neighboring a school.
Although these laws are instrumental in improving protections, for a state to truly protect children from pests and toxic pesticide exposure, schools must adopt a comprehensive IPM program that includes organic land management, bans the use of toxic pesticides for aesthetic purposes, and prohibits the use of hazardous pesticides, such as probable, possible or known carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, reproductive toxins, developmental toxins, neurotoxins, and toxicity category I and II pesticides. The least toxic pesticide should only be used as a last resort after non-chemical strategies have been tried.
In the U.S., there are approximately 54 million children and seven million adults in the nation’s 120,000 public and private schools. Recent peer-reviewed, published reports have found that healthy environments can reduce asthma and upper respiratory infections among school children, as well as promote personnel health, safety and productivity, and improve achievement. Asthma is the leading cause of school absenteeism due to chronic illness and a leading occupational disease of custodians and teachers. Healthy indoor environments are also associated with improvements in children’s learning and behavior, and therefore can yield even greater benefits and savings than energy efficiencies alone. EPA has estimated that up to half of all schools may have problems with indoor air quality.
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2005, “Acute Illnesses Associated with Pesticide Exposure at Schools,” finds that students and school employees are being poisoned by pesticide use at schools and from drift off of neighboring farmlands. The study, which analyzes 2593 poisonings from 1998 to 2002, finds incident rates overall of 7.4 cases per million children and 27.3 cases per million employees, while the authors conclude, “[T]hese results should be considered low estimates of the magnitude of the problem because many cases of pesticide poisoning are likely not reported to surveillance systems or poisoning control centers.” The authors recommend that strategies be adopted to reduce the use of pesticides at school and reduce drift.
TAKE ACTION: Be a part of National Healthy Schools Day, encourage your school to adopt safer pest management practices. Start by finding out about your school’s pest management/pesticide policy. Where a policy already exists, make sure that it is being enforced. If your school doesn’t have a policy in place, Beyond Pesticides can work with you and your school to ensure children are protected. School administrators will be more conscious of their pest management program if they know parents are concerned and tracking their program. For more information see Beyond Pesticides Children and Schools program page or contact Beyond Pesticides at firstname.lastname@example.org.