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From July 10, 2006                                                                                                        

State Legislature Votes Toxics Out of North Carolina Schools
(Beyond Pesticides, July 10, 2006)
Children are about to gain strong protections from pesticides, mercury, diesel fumes, arsenic-treated wood, mold and mildew at North Carolina’s public schools. A new bill titled the School Children’s Health Act (bill number H1502) has passed the House and Senate and has been sent to the Governor for his signature. The bill uses common-sense, low-cost, and even cost-savings measures to reduce student and staff exposure to hazardous contaminants in school buildings.

The bill was sponsored by Representatives Grier Martin (D-Wake), Marian McLawhorn (D-Pitt) and Marvin Lucas (D-Cumberland). Senator Bill Purcell (D-Scotland) presented the bill in the Senate. “It’s just common sense,” stated Representative Martin. “You don’t want toxic chemicals in school buildings that can harm kids’ health and make it harder for them to learn. It just so happens that we can reduce the risks from these hazards in a way that’s straightforward and cost-effective, too.”

Pediatrician Debbie Leiner, a member of the NC Pediatric Society, agrees. “There is growing scientific evidence that exposure to these common contaminants can increase children’s risk for many kinds of disease, including respiratory illness, learning difficulties and in some cases even cancer. From a medical perspective, this bill makes good sense – to prevent serious illness in the first place by making schools safer for kids,” Dr. Leiner said.

Beginning this fall, schools will have to reduce students’ exposures to diesel fumes from idling engines, coat or plan to eliminate arsenic-treated wood on playground equipment, make sure there is no elemental mercury in their science classrooms, and start managing pests with a common-sense method known as “Integrated Pest Management,” or IPM. Schools will have five years to fully implement the new IPM programs, but many districts around the state are already using it, and have even reported cost savings as a result.

"By changing simple practices, you can have a great effect," said Mike Burriss, Assistant Superintendent for Facilities at Wake County Schools, which has been recognized for its long-standing IPM program. "It's a very simple process, and it works very well," Burriss said. "It actually lowers my costs, because I don't have to provide pesticides and training on how to use them."

“The legislature has done a great job with this bill of taking a safety-first approach with schools,” stated Fawn Pattison, Executive Director of the Agricultural Resources Center, a group that advocates for School IPM. “The old-fashioned way of doing things was to ask, ‘how much of this chemical can we use before we hurt somebody?’ Schools now are getting smarter about asking instead why we would want to have hazardous toxics around kids in the first place. I think that’s real progress.”

The bill was strongly endorsed by the NC Pediatric Society, Agricultural Resources Center, Conservation Council of NC, Action for Children NC, the Covenant with North Carolina’s Children, and the Chairman of the State Board of Education, Howard Lee.

For more information on North Carolina's School Children's Health Act, see the Agricultural Resources Center factsheet. For more information on reducing pesticide use in schools, see Beyond Pesticides' Children and Schools issue page.