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Daily News Archive
From February 15, 2002

Farm Bill Passes Senate with School Pest Management and Pesticide Right-to-Know Amendment,
Legislation Will Curtail Children’s Pesticide Exposure

The U.S. Senate included in the Farm Bill passed today legislation to protect children from pesticides and promote safer pest management practices in schools. The legislation, the School Environment Protection Act (SEPA), sponsored by Senator Robert Torricelli (D-NJ), was previously attached to the Senate Education Reauthorization Bill on a unanimous consent vote last June, but later failed by one vote in the House-Senate Education Conference Committee in November.

"We hope that the Agriculture Conference Committee will now see the importance of embracing this piece of legislation. Children, teachers and school staff deserve the basic health and safety protections that this measure would provide," said Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides, a Washington-based public interest group.

Beyond Pesticides says that there are provisions in the Farm Bill supported by the chemical industry that may be held up if it again seeks, with support of the House Agriculture Committee, to derail SEPA in conference committee. SEPA ran into opposition from House Agriculture Committee members who had previously refused to participate in negotiations on the bill last Spring.

A coalition of environmental, public health, labor, parent and teacher organizations, and groups representing the pest management and chemical industry, support the legislation, creating an historic alliance between groups often at odds with each other. Although still claiming support, chemical industry representatives refused to voice support for SEPA when it was in the education conference committee, leading to the bill’s derailment last year.

SEPA represents a straightforward approach to promote school pest management practices that minimize risk to children and notify and provide safety information to parents and school staff when pesticides are used by schools. If it becomes law, schools may become safer for children and teachers. There is no similar language in the House version of the Farm Bill.

With regard to the three major programmatic components of SEPA -- posting, notification and integrated pest management (IPM) -- three states, including Maryland, Massachusetts and Michigan, have statutory requirements in all three areas. Fourteen states (Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Texas, Washington, West Virginia and Wyoming) require two of the three major components in SEPA. Overall, 31 states have adopted pesticide laws that have one or more of the provisions in SEPA. Of those, twenty states require written notification, either by universal notice or a registry, and fourteen states recommend or require schools use IPM. IPM practitioners have cited large cost savings to school districts that utilize pest management practices supported by the legislation.

The School Environment Protection Act (SEPA):
--requires local educational agencies to implement a school pest management policy considering sanitation, structural repair, mechanical, biological, cultural and pesticide strategies that minimize health and environmental risks as developed by the state and EPA approved;
--requires universal notification 3 times per year (at the beginning of the school year, midyear, and once for summer session) of school pesticide use;
--provides parents and school staff access to health and toxicity information on all pesticides used in schools;
--establishes a registry for parents and school staff to sign-up to receive 24 hour pre-notification of a pesticide application;
--provides information on the pesticide’s adverse health effects on the notice provided via the registry;
-- requires signs to be posted 24 hours prior to the pesticide application and remain posted for 24 hours;
--exempts antimicrobials, baits, gels, and pastes from the notification requirements;
-- requires the area where a pesticide application is to take place be unoccupied;
-- requires record keeping of pesticide use and disclosure.;
--establishes 24 hour reentry period for pesticide applications made via baseboard spraying, broadcast spraying, tenting or fogging, unless the label specifies a specific reentry interval;
--does not apply to pest management activities conducted on or adjacent to school property by, or at the direction of, state or local agencies other than local educational agencies; and,
--does not preempt state or local schools from adopting a policy that exceeds provisions of the act.

Children are among the least protected population group when it comes to pesticide exposure, according to the National Academy of Sciences report, Pesticides In the Diets of Infants and Children (1993). Children, due to their small size, greater intake of air and food relative to body weight, developing organ systems and other unique characteristics, are at higher risk than adults to pesticides. Numerous studies document that children exposed to pesticides suffer elevated rates of childhood leukemia, soft tissue sarcoma and brain cancer. Studies link pesticides to childhood asthma and respiratory problems. Scientists increasingly associate learning disabilities or attention deficit disorders with low level toxic exposure because of their affect on the central nervous system.

In fall 1999, the General Accounting Office (GAO), at the request of Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), conducted a national review of the extent to which pesticides are used in and around the nation’s 110,000 public schools and the magnitude of the risk of exposure to children. The GAO report, Pesticides: Use, Effects, and Alternatives to Pesticides in Schools (GAO/RCED-00-17), found that the data on the amount of pesticides used in the nation’s public schools is neither available nor collected by the federal and most state governments. The report also found that EPA is not doing enough to protect children from pesticides, and that there is limited information on how many children are exposed to pesticides in schools. The GAO cited EPA’s analysis of the Poison Control Centers’ Toxic Exposure Surveillance System, documenting 2,300 school pesticide exposures from 1993-1996. Because most of the symptoms of pesticide exposure, from respiratory distress to difficulty in concentration, are common and may be assumed to have other causes, it is suspected that pesticide-related illness is much more prevalent than presently indicated.