(Beyond Pesticides, April 19, 2010) Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour last week signed a childhood asthma management and prevention bill into law that includes provisions requiring all public school districts to implement an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program and prohibiting the use of hazardous substances such as cleaning products and pesticides. Although the bill reads as though it will do a lot for children with asthma, with regard to the actual eliminatiion or significant reduction of toxic pesticide use at schools, the bill is weakly worded and will need strong regulations to be meaningful in protecting children from pesticide-asthma triggers.
Specifically, this new law, effective July 1, 2010, requires schools to allow students to self-administer asthma and anaphylaxis medication; recommends students with asthma to have an Asthma Action Plan on file at the school; provides training for teachers, nurses, and all other school staff on asthma; requires buses to minimize idling time; requires local school health councils to adopt and support the implementation of a local school wellness policy that includes minimizing children’s exposure to pollutants that can aggravate asthma and prohibits the use of hazardous substances such as cleaning products and pesticides in and around school buildings during the hours children are present. The bill also states that the Mississippi Department of Education requires all public school districts to implement IPM.
Unfortunately, the law does not include criteria for cleaning products or pesticides considered a “hazardous substance,” nor does the bill define IPM. In reference to IPM, the bill simply states that it “includes procedural guidelines for pesticide application, education of building occupants and inspection and monitoring of pesticide applications. The integrated pest management program may limit the frequency, duration and volume of pesticide application on school grounds.”
Mississippi will need to be vigilant in its implementation of this new law as all too often IPM is a term that is used loosely with many different definitions. It is not uncommon for pest control programs that continue to unnecessarily rely on pesticide applications to be described as IPM. Those that are implementing a truly comprehensive IPM program utilize 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 pesticide only as a last resort. Constant monitoring ensures that pest buildups are detected and suppressed before unacceptable outbreaks occur. IPM in schools has proven to be an effective and economical method of pest management that, when done correctly, can eliminate pest problems and the use of hazardous pesticides in school buildings and on school grounds. Toxic, hazardous pesticides including those that are carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, reproductive and developmental toxicants, neurotoxic poisons, and pesticides listed by the U.S. EPA as a toxicity category I or II pesticide, should never be used in a school environment.
According to Beyond Pesticides report, The Schooling of State Pesticide Laws — 2010 Update, Mississippi joins 15 additional states that require their public schools to adopt an IPM program. Of these states, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Oregon have comprehensive definitions of IPM in their laws, and allow only the least-toxic pesticide to be used as a last resort. In addition, Massachusetts and Oregon specifically prohibit a defined list of toxic pesticides from being used in their IPM program.
School pest problems can be effectively managed without toxic pesticides. With a quality IPM program, examples prove that there is never a real justification or need to use pesticides in a school environment. When pesticides are found to be needed in those rare circumstances of last resort, limiting when and what pesticides are applied in and around schools is important to the reduction of pesticide exposure.
According to the American Lung Association’s Environmental Health public policy position, adopted in 2007, “The American Lung Association supports the adoption of policies that require schools and child care facilities to practice least toxic pest control methods, such as integrated pest management, and strategies to minimize or eliminate the exposure to pesticides.”
The 2009 “Mississippi Asthma Surveillance Report,” by the Mississippi Department of Health, states that more than ten percent of Mississippi children under the age of 18 years currently have asthma. Nationwide, nearly one in eight school-aged children have asthma and is the leading cause of school absenteeism due to chronic illness.
Beyond Pesticides’ booklet, Asthma, Children and Pesticides, highlights the many studies that have found evidence that exposure to pesticides is correlated with asthma. In addition to being an underlying cause of asthma, pesticides can also trigger asthma attacks in those who already suffer from the disease.
The Pennsylvania Asthma Partnership, funded by the Pennsylvania Department of Health and managed by the American Lung Association, states in a March press release that, “Asthma is a chronic lung disease that, for many individuals, can be controlled by avoiding ”˜triggers’ ”¦ Environmental factors that can trigger asthma and asthma symptoms include pests, such as cockroaches and mice, pest by-products such as cast skins, feces and urine, as well as some of the pesticides often used to get rid of pests.” The Philadelphia School and Community IPM Partnership (PSCIP) is currently working to educate residents on reducing allergies and asthma triggers in homes, schools and childcare centers by promoting “less-risky” methods of controlling indoor pests.
As referenced above, different states have different levels of protection in regards to children’s exposure to pesticides at school. Without minimum federal standards on school pest management and pesticide use, such as the proposed School Environment Protection Act (SEPA) the protection provided children across the country is uneven and inadequate. SEPA provides 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 to implement a comprehensive IPM program, establishing a list of least-toxic pesticides to be used only as a last resort, and requiring notification provisions when pesticides are used in a public health emergency.
For more information on children’s exposure to pesticides, including information on how you can protect your family from pesticides in your home, school and community; and the latest studies and news on this topic, see Beyond Pesticides Children and Schools program page.