(Beyond Pesticides, July 26, 2010) Researchers at the Center for Children’s Environmental Health Research, UC Berkeley School of Public Health has found that the majority of child daycare centers surveyed do not understand the term Integrative Pest Management (IPM), and many spray pesticides without notifying parents or posting signs. Specifically, the survey found that over 90% of participating child care centers in the state of California have at least one pest problem, yet only 25% understand what IPM means. When using pesticides, 24% of survey participants do not notify parents and 35% do not post any warning signs. The survey was conducted for the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR), which is required under the California Healthy Schools Act to collect data on pest management in child care centers.
Children are especially vulnerable to pesticides due to their developing organ system. Because they eat more and respire more than adults relative to body size, and they often put things in their mouths, they are exposed to more pesticides than adults. Research shows that even low levels of pesticide exposure can affect a child’s neurological, respiratory, immune, and endocrine system.
The California Healthy Schools Act requires schools as well as private child care facilities to keep records of pesticide use and inform parents. The law covers the use of pesticide sprays or foggers, pesticides contained in baits, gels, or traps are exempt. The Act also requires DPR to develop programs to encourage child care centers to voluntarily develop IPM plans; however there are no provisions for enforcement. DPR defines Integrated Pest Management as “a strategy to prevent and treat pest problems using a combination of prevention, monitoring, record keeping and control methods… Chemical controls that pose the least possible hazard to human health and the environment are used only after careful monitoring and when non-chemical methods have failed.”
According to the survey, 55% of child care facilities use pesticides to control pests. Of these, 29% apply pesticides only once or a few times a year, but 20% apply pesticides on a weekly or monthly basis, and more than 25% of facilities do not keep records of pesticide use. Just 8% reported using only pesticides exempt from the Healthy Schools Act, such as baits, gels or traps. Survey participants cited ants as the biggest pest problem. Other common pests include spiders, mice or rats, cockroaches, head lice, bees or wasps, weeds and squirrels or gophers.
Researchers stress the importance of educating people who make pest management decisions for child care facilities on the concept of IPM, ensuring they understand implementing IPM is not prohibitively expensive or time consuming. In fact, many child care facilities reported relying on IPM practices such as sealing cracks and eliminating pests’ food sources, despite not knowing what IPM means. The survey shows that in most child care facilities (87%) the director is responsible for pest management decisions; however many other people often take part in the decision making process including child care and custodial staff, pest management professionals, and property owners. Therefore researchers recommend targeting IPM education to a broad range of people who may be involved in pest management practices. Educational materials about IPM in California child care facilities in English and Spanish are available online. In addition, DPR in collaboration with UC San Francisco School of Nursing designed an IPM curriculum specifically for child care providers that will be available this summer.
Parents–Talk to your child’s school or day care provider. Ask them what pesticides they have used in the past, about notification requirements, and urge them to use defined IPM that specifies nonchemical practices and only allowable least-toxic pesticides as a last resort. For more information and ideas on how to speak up at your child’s school or day care center, see Beyond Pesticides’ Children and Schools page.
This is a prime example of why national policy that would protect every child in the U.S. from pesticide exposure at school. Federal legislation, the School Environment Protection Act of 2009 (SEPA), has been introduced by Rep. Rush Holt and would protect school children from pesticides used both indoors and on all school grounds nationwide. The legislation also bans the use of synthetic fertilizers. To learn more about this legislation and help its passage, see Beyond Pesticides’ SEPA webpage.
California residents can visit California Safe Schools for more information.