(Beyond Pesticides, April 26, 2010) With the growing number of viable, cost-effective alternative pest management strategies, it has never been easier for schools to eliminate the unnecessary use of toxic pesticide in school buildings and on school grounds. In celebration of Healthy School Day, an annual event coordinated by the Healthy Schools Network, Beyond Pesticides, one of the event’s 25 co-sponsors, asks parents, school staff and administrators, government agencies, community activists, and those in political office to demand that our nation’s schools do a better job at providing environmentally safe schools for children.
In the absence of federal law, such as the proposed School Environment Protection Act (SEPA), some states and local school districts have attempted to provide children with the protection they need from hazardous pesticide exposure while at school, yet the level of protection is uneven and inadequate across the country, with the majority of children left unprotected. There is no reason to expose children to hazardous pesticides and cleaning agents. The tools and experience are available to ensure environmentally safe schools for all children.
“The vulnerability of infants and children to the harmful effects of pesticides continues to attract national attention. Schools from across the country document a growing trend to adopt safer pest management strategies that do not rely on toxic pesticides, providing children with a healthier learning environment. Communities are also acknowledging the health and environmental risks of antimicrobial cleaning agents such as triclosan. Because of its link to resistant bacteria and adverse health effects – including asthma, cancer and learning disabilities, triclosan has no place in the classroom,” said Jay Feldman, Beyond Pesticides’ executive director.
In the U.S., there are 55 million children and seven million adults in the nation’s 125,000 K-12 schools, many of which suffer from polluted indoor air, due to multiple factors, such as poor construction or ventilation, use of hazardous materials, inadequate sanitation, siting near hazards, and/or the unnecessary use of toxic pesticides or chemicals. The effects on children and staff are profound. Federal and state agencies and the research community are aware that unhealthy school environments erode health, learning and productivity, increase risks and health care costs, as well as increase asthma absenteeism.
“As school system leaders, members of the American Association of School Administrators set the pace for academic achievement and student welfare,” said Dan Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators Schools. “Schools that are environmentally safe are key to student learning and student and staff health and well-being.”
With the overarching goal of this year’s National Healthy Schools Day to make every school healthy for every child by promoting healthy and green school environments, 55 activities are taking place to promote the day throughout the U.S. and Canada. One such event that is focusing on safer pest management practices is being organized by the Greater Grand Rapids Children’s Environmental Health Initiative which is giving a presentation on pests and Integrated Pest Management to third graders at Ada Vista Elementary School. The presentation concludes with a scavenger hunt to find all the things in the room that would provide a pest friendly environment, a great way for the students to become pest-prevention detectives at school and at home. (Grand Rapids school district has had an IPM program in place for more than twenty years.)
There are many ways to promote Healthy Schools Day locally and nationally:
* 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.
* Support federal legislation, the School Environment Protection Act (SEPA), that will protect school children from pesticides used both indoors and on all school grounds nationwide.
* Contact your state legislators and Governor requesting that they require schools adopt safer pest management practices and eliminate the use of toxic pesticides. See Beyond Pesticides’ report, The Schooling of State Pesticide Laws — 2010 Update for information on existing state laws and model provisions.
* Avoid harmful germs without using the antibacterial chemicals triclosan, a hazardous endocrine disrupting chemical commonly found in soaps and sanitizers, as well as lunch bags, shoes, socks, toys and school supplies. Join Beyond Pesticides’ campaign to end the consumer use of triclosan and take the “>pledge.
* Persuade your school to adopt the Triclosan Resolution to not buy or use products containing triclosan and supporting broader elimination of non-medical uses.
* Ask your school to serve healthier cafeteria choices with organic, locally grown foods.
* Learn how you can eliminate children’s exposure to toxic wood preservative. Although, as of January 2004, most residential uses of chromated-copper-arsenic (CCA) can no longer be manufactured for decks and patios, picnic tables, playground equipment, walkways/boardwalks, landscaping timbers, or fencing, already existing CCA-treated wood and structures may continue to be sold and used and continues to be found on children’s playgrounds, putting children at risk. Use Beyond Pesticides’ Resource Kit to take action in your community and state.
* Find ways to manage specific pest problems without toxic chemicals by using one Beyond Pesticide’s alternatives factsheets.
* Educate yourself on the hazards and risks of commonly used toxic pesticides through Beyond Pesticide’s Pesticide Information Gateway.
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 the scientific literature shows that pesticide exposure can adversely affect a child’s neurological, respiratory, immune, and endocrine system, even at low levels.
“[The American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities] strongly believes that all people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) have the right to live, work, learn, worship and play in environments that are healthy and safe. This is particularly the case for children with special needs,” said Laura Abulafia, Environmental Health Initiative Director with the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. “Children, especially those who may have additional vulnerabilities such as developmental delays or intellectual/learning disabilities, may be more at risk to indoor toxic exposures.”
“Children spend many hours in one environment – school. They need a safe, healthy setting in which to thrive, learn and succeed. An excellent school environment can improve academic achievement and children’s enjoyment of school. A substandard school environment will interfere with learning and peer interactions at school. But as many as one-third of schools have substandard environments, said Robert J. Geller, M.D., Professor of Pediatrics at Emory University School of Medicine, and Director of Emory Southeast Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit Our. “Current economic challenges hamper the abilities of many schools, and may allow some schools to deteriorate further. This is a false savings, one that we must resist.”
For more information on children’s exposure to pesticides, including information on how to protect your family from pesticides in at home, school and throughout the community; and the latest studies and news on this topic, see Beyond Pesticides Children and Schools program page