(Beyond Pesticides, January 10, 2013) The public health and environmental non-profit, Toxics Action Center (TAC) released a report in December that surveys pesticide use on public school grounds across the state of Maine and urges policy change to stop spraying. The report, “A Call for Safer School Grounds: A Survey of Pesticide Use on K-12 Public School Grounds in Maine,” is based on a survey of 209 Maine public schools and shows that 51% of schools surveyed spray pesticides, many of which have been linked to human health impacts, including kidney disease and links to non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The report finds that the state’s Integrated Pest Management Policy (IPM) is inadequate in regulating pesticide application and informing the public on pesticide practices. Although IPM policies and records of pesticide applications are required to be kept by schools under Maine law, 32% of schools report that they do not keep records. TAC received IPM records from 9% of schools surveyed.
“Maine children are at risk from pesticide spraying in schools,” said Tracie Konopinski, Community Organizer with TAC, “[In November,] the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) published a report calling for reduced pesticide exposure for children. There are numerous studies cited within the AAP’s report that link chronic pesticide exposure to pediatric cancers and neurobehavioral and cognitive deficits like autism, attention disorders, and hyperactivity. Our report shows that despite policies aimed at reducing pesticide spraying, more than half of K-12 public schools polled in our report still have their finger on the pesticide trigger.”
The Maine state legislature currently requires that all Maine public and private schools adopt IPM practices and appoints an IPM coordinator to minimize the use of pesticides in schools and on school grounds. In 2011, a bill was introduced in the Maine state legislature to ban pesticides on school grounds. Ultimately, the bill was amended to continue to rely on IPM and instead require development of Best Management Practices (BMPs) and direct the Maine Board of Pesticides Control to assess compliance with current IPM regulations. Unfortunately, as the report points out, the implementation of both the IPM and BMP at Maine schools often fall short of what the law requires. Recent amendments to Maine’s school pesticide regulations introduced back in September would even further weaken the state’s IPM standards if adopted.
However, several Maine communities, including Camden and Scarborough, have taken matters into their own hands and passed policies on the municipal level to curb the use of synthetic pesticides on town”owned land.
The report, available at www.toxicsaction.org offers the following recommendations:
1) Keep our children safe. The Maine state legislature should ban the use of pesticides on public school grounds. There is considerable scientific evidence that the human brain is not fully formed until the age of 12, and childhood exposure to some of the most common pesticides on the market may greatly impact the development of the central nervous system.
2) The Maine state legislature should ban the use of pesticides for solely aesthetic reasons. Using pesticides for aesthetic reasons is an unnecessary risk to children’s health. Athletic fields and playgrounds are commonly treated for aesthetic reasons, leaving students at the greatest risk of exposure.
3) The Maine state legislature and the Maine Department of Education should ban the use of broad-based pesticides such as Weed and Feed and Roundup on public school grounds. Broad-based pesticides, which are designed to kill a number of unwanted weeds and pests, are among the most harmful types of pesticides. Weed and Feed and Roundup are made from 2,4-D and glyphosate, respectively, among the most toxic chemicals used in any pesticide products. Our survey results show Weed and Feed and Roundup to be the two most commonly used pesticides on school grounds in Maine.
4) Schools must prepare more specific Integrated Pest Management (IPM) policies to alert parents about pesticide applications when necessary. Because pesticides are toxic, IPM policies and records need to be available online so that parents can see what is being applied at their children’s schools and take proper precautions.
5) The Maine Department of Education should promote organic turf management practices. Schools that manage their grounds exclusively through organic lawn care are very rare. Only 9 schools reported the use of organics.Despite this, there is a wide body of evidence demonstrating that organic lawn maintenance can save money and protect children’s health.
State Representative Mary Nelson (D-Falmouth), who supports these recommendations, said, “We need strong action that puts us on a faster track to reducing human exposure to pesticides. I call on my colleagues in the Maine House and Senate to follow the lead of communities like Scarborough and limit the use of pesticides at schools and day care centers in order to protect children’s health and promote safe schools.”
Schools and day care centers must nurture a healthy environment in which children can grow and learn. Children are especially sensitive to pesticide exposure as they take in more pesticides relative to their body weight than adults and have developing organ systems that are more vulnerable and less able to detoxify toxic chemicals. Even at low levels, exposure to pesticides can cause serious adverse health effects. Numerous studies document that children exposed to pesticides suffer elevated rates of childhood leukemia, soft tissue sarcoma and brain cancer. Studies also link pesticides to childhood asthma, respiratory problems, and learning disabilities and inability to concentrate. For more information, see Beyond Pesticides’ Children and Schools page. To see more scientific research on the effects of pesticides on human health, see our Pesticide-Induced Diseases Database.
Beyond Pesticides works extensively to promote sound IPM and organic policy in communities throughout the country. To this end, we support the implementation of strong Integrated Pest Management (IPM) policy in Maine and throughout the U.S., although the term IPM has been misused to characterize pesticide-dependent management systems. With proper design and preventive practices, there is little to no need to use any pesticide product. Existing buildings can be repaired and retrofitted and grounds can be planted with tolerant, native species, with nonsynthetic fertilization that supports healthy soils and virtually eliminates the use of pesticides.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.