(Beyond Pesticides, May 5, 2009) Parents and child care providers work hard to provide a loving, stimulating environment that is safe for children, yet they may be exposing them to hazardous chemicals. A new report finds that more than half of surveyed child care providers use broadcast spray and/or “bug bombs” in their centers. The report, Avoiding Big Risks for Small Kids: Results of the 2008 NC Child Care Pest Control Survey, by the nonprofit group Toxic Free NC, is based on a survey of 89 child care providers from across North Carolina who answered questions about pests, pesticides and safety at their facilities.
“As a pediatrician and a mother, I believe we should be avoiding the use of toxic chemicals in children’s environments,” says Katherine Shea, M.D., M.P.H. “Child care centers, where our youngest and most vulnerable children spend time eating and sleeping, playing and learning, should be safe and free from known chemical hazards like pesticides.”
Babies and young children are among the most likely age groups to suffer long-term harm to their health from exposure to pesticides. Numerous scientific studies have connected pesticide exposure in early life to an increased risk of asthma, harm to growing brains, and some childhood cancers.
The report’s authors recommend the creation of a training and certification programs in non-chemical and least toxic methods of pest control, also called Integrated Pest Management (IPM) for pest control companies and child care providers. An IPM program utilizes pest prevention and management strategies such as improved sanitation, structural repairs and pest population monitoring, with the least-toxic pesticide application only as a last resort. One out of four child care providers surveyed reported using least-toxic or IPM pest control methods; those same centers also reported fewer serious pest problems.
Public schools in North Carolina are now required to switch to IPM under the 2006 School Children’s Health Act, but no such requirement exists for child care centers. 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. A comprehensive IPM program is proven to be cost effective and yield better pest control results.
Pest control professional Philip Maready agrees with the report’s recommendation for IPM, “Having worked with public school systems in implementing IPM programs, I believe it is important to use those same IPM strategies in sensitive environments such as day care facilities.”
The report also finds that child care providers that employ professional pest control contractors, or pest control operators (PCOs), are more likely to report that high-risk methods are used in their facilities than those who handle pest control in-house. The survey results also show that the most common pest problems faced by child care providers include ants, mosquitoes, fire ants, weeds, and flies. Some of these pest problems are more serious than others, but all can be managed safely and effectively with least-toxic IPM methods.
“It is troubling to find that high-risk pesticide applications are used in so many child care facilities in our state. Most child care providers don’t have the information they need to make knowledgeable decisions about pest control,” said Billie Karel, Toxic Free NC’s program director and report author. “We must do a better job of protecting North Carolina’s youngest and most vulnerable children.” Toxic Free NC has developed several resources for parents and child care providers to get safer pest management practices in their facility.
According to Beyond Pesticides’ research on state pesticide laws, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Rhode Island and West Virginia require child care facilities implement IPM programs and have restrictions on pesticide use. For more information on child care and school pest management practices around the country, see Beyond Pesticides’ Children and Schools program page.