(Beyond Pesticides, October 28, 2010) In an effort to combat a bedbug problem in a Brooklyn, New York elementary school, the Department of Education (DOE) paid a private contractor almost $100,000 to exterminate and, according to teachers, left the classrooms “soaked with a liquid bed bug killing chemical.” An odorous fluid was left behind on children’s and teacher’s desks, books and on the floors. ABC 7 Online reports the unknown pesticide substance is being tested, but teachers and parents will not know the results and what they were exposed to for another two weeks. The teacher’s union estimates that cleaning up the classroom will cost over twice what was paid, and the DOE plans to bill the contractor and stop the company from future business in the city, according to the news report.
This story showcases the importance of a comprehensive school and community pesticide and pest management policy in response to the mass hysteria that bedbugs are causing and as a general public health protection measure. The bedbug outbreak prompted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to issue warnings against improper treatments and misuses of pesticides. Despite the fact that bed bugs do not transmit diseases and are not generally considered to be a threat to health, the recent resurgence of these pests have caused many people to take desperate measures to eradicate them by using dangerous outdoor pesticides and fly-by-night exterminators. To solve the bed bug problem nationwide, it is going to take a comprehensive public health campaign -public-service announcements, travel tips and perhaps even government-sponsored integrated pest management programs for public housing and other high density areas. Recently, Los Angeles and San Francisco hosted workshops on bed bugs, and Beyond Pesticides released an updated fact sheet on how to deal with bed bugs without toxic pesticides.
It is important to focus on non-toxic pest control in schools 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. 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.
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 educate 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).