(Beyond Pesticides, October 31, 2011) The Borough Council of Oradell, NJ has pledged to review the use of pesticides on public grounds following an incident in which children may have been allowed to prematurely re-enter an herbicide-treated soccer field. This incident recalls the recently reported exposure and poisoning that occurred in Ohio a few weeks ago, and echoes the need for a comprehensive national policy to protect children from harmful and unnecessary exposure to toxic chemicals. The on-line edition of The Record reported on October 25 that the Council acted in response to a complaint filed as a result of an herbicide application to Memorial Field on October 6. The complaint stated that despite numerous posted signs warning children should not to enter the treated area for 72 hours, two youth soccer teams were playing on the field six hours after the application. The complaint further stated that the town’s Department of Public Works had removed all but one of the warning signs by the next day when another soccer game was played. The Record also reported that the field is open and accessible to members of the general public.
Children are especially sensitive and vulnerable to pesticides because of their rapid development and behavior patterns. Adverse health effects, such as nausea, dizziness, respiratory problems, headaches, rashes, and mental disorientation, may appear even if a pesticide is applied according to label directions. Pesticide exposure can have long-term adverse effects, including damage to a child’s neurological, respiratory, immune, and endocrine system and increased asthma symptoms. Studies show that children living in households where pesticides are used suffer elevated rates of leukemia, brain cancer, and soft tissue sarcoma. For more information, see Beyond Pesticides’ fact sheet, “Children and Pesticides Don’t Mix.”
The herbicide applicator provided information indicating that he had applied the formulated herbicide LESCO Eliminate LO Broadleaf Herbicide, which contains dicamba as one of three active ingredients. Dicamba is a neurotoxic chlorinated benzoic acid herbicide that the Environmental Protection Agency classifies as acute toxicity class III, slightly toxic. The material is a recognized eye irritant, moderately persistent in the environment and highly mobile in both soil and water. Chronic exposure is linked to reproductive and developmental effects. While there were no reported illnesses or adverse reactions to this incident, city officials acknowledged the need for a more coherent management strategy. Mayor Dianne Didio stated, “The borough is looking at ways to improve our communication and explore alternative methods…”
New Jersey is one of several states that are actively considering requirements that prohibit unnecessary pesticide applications by schools and day care facilities. A measure entitled the Safe Playing Fields Act has been introduced in both houses of the state legislature and passed by the Senate Budget Committee on June 15. The bill would prohibit the use of lawn care pesticides on playgrounds and recreational fields, except as an emergency response to an immediate threat to human health, as determined by the municipal or county governing body in consultation with the local health officer or if required by law. The bill would also direct the Commissioner of Environmental Protection, in consultation with the Commissioner of Health and Senior Services, to adopt rules and regulations concerning pesticide application, record keeping, and staff and parental notification procedures at child care centers with the goal of mitigating potential health risks to young children.
Exposure to toxic pesticides and other chemicals while children are at school is an unacceptable and completely unnecessary risk. This incident should not have happened and supports the need for a national policy to protect every child in the United States. Most recently introduced in the last Congress, federal legislation sponsored by Rep. Rush Holt, the School Environment Protection Act (SEPA), would protect school children from pesticides used both indoors and on all school grounds nationwide. The legislation also bans the use of synthetic fertilizers. SEPA was first introduced in November 1999 in both the U.S. Senate and House; and has been reintroduced every Congressional session since. The bill language is based on state school pest management laws. It also is similar in structure to the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, which established a national committee to oversee the program as well as established a list of pesticides allowed for use within the program. A version of SEPA has passed the U.S. Senate twice since and, together with other legislation, indicates broad support for a national mandate to stop hazardous pesticide use in schools. To learn more about this legislation, see Beyond Pesticides’ SEPA webpage.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.