(Beyond Pesticides, July 29, 2010) A set of mandatory rules intended to reduce pesticide use in public and private schools in Indiana is pending approval after voluntary implementation guidelines failed. The Indiana Pesticides Board submitted a draft proposal in June outlining rules to minimize pesticide exposure to students. These measures include banning the use of pesticides when students are present, keeping pesticides locked in storage areas where students do not have access, providing advance notice of pesticide applications, and using pesticides with the lowest hazards to children. Although Beyond Pesticides recommend the additional step of developing a defined Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program, these tactics represent a good first step towards pesticide reduction in schools.
The Indiana School Board Association developed a set of voluntary pesticide guidelines in 2001, but while rates of adoption increased, the Indiana state chemist’s office found that some schools were not implementing those policies, or had not adopted pesticide guidelines.
It is important that schools adopt a comprehensive pesticide policy because children are especially vulnerable to the health hazards associated with pesticide exposure due to their small size, greater intake of air and food relative to body weight, and developing organ systems. Several pesticides, including pyrethroids, organophosphates and carbamates are known to cause or exacerbate asthma symptoms. In fact, of the 48 most commonly used pesticides in schools, 22 are probable or possible carcinogens, 26 have been shown to cause reproductive effects, 31 damage the nervous system, 31 injure the liver or kidney, 41 are sensitizers or irritants, and 16 can cause birth defects. The body of evidence in scientific literature shows that pesticide exposure can adversely affect a child’s neurological, respiratory, immune, and endocrine system, even at low levels.
Dave Scott, pesticide administrator for the Indiana state chemist’s office told the Associated Press that if approved, these rules could be in place by early 2011. After a year of compliance inspections and education, those districts in violation of the rules would face penalties up to $1,000 for repeated offenses.
Julie Slavens, staff attorney of the Indiana School Boards Association commented, “It’s not an unduly burdensome mandate” and said that the new rules aren’t expected to create new costs for schools. If anything, a reduction in pesticide use could result in lower costs, as it did for the Pike Township School district, which adopted a least-toxic approach in 2008.
Paul Rivas, the district’s director of facilities, trained custodians, teachers and staff in ways to keep the district’s nine elementary schools, three middle schools, and high school clean in order to avoid attracting pests. The shelving in kitchen pantries are raised at least eight inches off the floor so workers can sweep crumbs out from underneath, and staff has sealed up cracks on the outside and installed extra weather stripping to block pest entrances. Mr. Rivas estimated that these measures have saved his district between $6,000 and $10,000 a year by reducing the need for pesticides.
These least-toxic measures are imperative to ensuring a healthy environment, since children are among the group least protected from pesticide exposure. See Pesticides and Children Don’t Mix. Mr. Rivas commented, “If you know anything about elementary school kids, they’re everywhere. They’re on the floor, their hands are on the floor, they’re sitting on the floor””and if someone is in there spraying stuff it’s going to get on their hands, and when they eat they’re going to be putting their fingers in their mouths.”
Beyond Pesticides recommends the implementation of a defined IPM system to prevent pest problems with non-chemical management strategies and only least-toxic pesticides as a last resort. IPM relies on a combination of methods that address sanitation, structural repair, mechanical measures, biological controls and other non-chemical methods inside buildings and additional approaches for turf and ornamental plant management that build healthy soil and natural resistance to pests. The report by the National School Pesticide Reform Coalition and Beyond Pesticides entitled, “Safer Schools: Achieving a Healthy Learning Environment Through Integrated Pest Management” elaborates on the IPM system, and how it can be implemented successfully.
Additionally, the School Environment Protection Act (SEPA) H.R. 4159 (see bill summary and bill text) is intended to provide protection for all children nationwide, beyond what is included in Indiana’s proposal. SEPA ensures a healthy learning environment for children through the management of school buildings and school grounds without toxic pesticides through the implementation of an IPM, among other least-toxic approaches. Help education on SEPA:
”¢ Contact your U.S. Senators and U.S Representative to educate them on SEPA (see sample letter) (See www.senate.gov and www.house.gov for their contact information (Email Beyond Pesticides and we’ll also send follow-up information).
”¢ Sign your organization up as a supporter of SEPA by emailing Beyond Pesticides your name and organization’s contact information (See a list of current SEPA supporters).
”¢ Pass this information to your mayor, city council, local PTA and civic association and request that they endorse SEPA. (Email Beyond Pesticides, and we’ll also send follow-up information. Please be sure to include all the necessary contact information).
A public hearing for the draft proposal will be held at 9 a.m. on August 2nd, at the Office of the Indiana State Chemist, Purdue University, 175 South University Street, Room A151, West Lafayette, Indiana.