(Beyond Pesticides, March 14, 2014) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced this week three grants to universities in Texas, Michigan, and Arizona to implement integrated pest management (IPM) practices, reigniting the debate on whether pesticide dependency in many, if not most, IPM systems is warranted given techniques that have eliminated toxic pesticide use. Are these programs moving pest management in the right direction, as strong IPM measures offer the opportunity to eliminate the use of pesticides, or is the IPM systems unnecessarily using pesticides that can be replaced by management practices that exclude pest entryways, adopt sanitation and cleaning practices to eliminate pest conducive conditions, and when necessary, as a last resort, use carefully defined least-toxic chemicals.
One of the grants, awarded to Texas A&M Agrilife Extension, will be utilized to develop a central, online source for materials providing school districts with important information and tools to implement an IPM program. The project’s goal within the three year grant period is to reach one percent of schools or 552,350 students of the estimated 49 million children attending U.S. public schools in 15,000 school districts.
Another grant was awarded to University of Arizona, with the goal of developing and implementing a pilot training and certification program for staff members, including custodians in charge of cleaning, kitchen staff in charge of clean up, and school administrators that are required for oversight of IPM measures. The program will go out to eight states and four native tribes as well as five other universities. University of Arizona is required to disseminate the final certification materials to school partners through-out the nation.
Finally, EPA awarded Michigan State University with a grant to provide hands-on education, and training to five percent of schools within Michigan and Indiana in efforts to implement IPM, influencing 135,000 children.
There is reason for concern that these IPM programs may not provide the safety actually required for schools to keep children safe from toxic chemicals. IPM can have different definitions and methods of implementation, meaning virtually anything the practitioner wants it to mean. Beware of chemical dependent programs masquerading as IPM. Those who argue that IPM requires the ability to spray pesticides immediately after identifying a pest problem are not describing IPM. Conventional pest control tends to ignore the causes of pest infestations and instead relies on routine, scheduled pesticide applications. Pesticides are often temporary fixes, ineffective over the long term.
There are alternatives to pesticides for managing insects, rodents and weeds effectively without exposing families and children to harmful toxic chemicals, especially incorporating the principles of IPM. Beyond Pesticides’ The Safer Choice brochure focuses on what you can do to manage your home, school and community without poisoning your children, families, pets, and the environment.
Beyond Pesticides is a strong advocate of defined structural IPM practices and is working to champion the use of these methods particularly in schools and hospitals, where vulnerable populations are at elevated risk from pesticide exposure. Beyond Pesticides’ Healthy Schools Project aims to eliminate the risks posed by pesticides through the adoption of IPM policies and programs at the local, state, and federal level, thereby fostering a healthier learning environment. Central to this effort are activities aimed at public education on pesticide hazards and the efficacy of alternatives, and the continued development of model communities that serve as examples.
For more information on structural IPM, please visit Beyond Pesticides’ “What is Integrated Pest Management (IPM)?” page. If you would like to know if there are Pest Management Service providers that use least-toxic practices, visit Beyond Pesticides’ Safety Source database.