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Daily News Blog

24
Aug

Back-to-School? Leave the Toxics Behind

(Beyond Pesticides, August 24, 2015) At the start of the  school year, it is critical to check in with school administrators to make sure that students and teachers will not be exposed to hazardous pesticides used in the school’s buildings or on playing fields. Whether a parent, teacher, student, school administrator, landscaper or community advocate, there are steps that  can taken to make sure the school environment is a safe from  toxic chemicals, as the new  school year begins.

For Parents and Teachers:
schoolclass2Because children face unique hazards from pesticide exposure due to their small size and developing organ systems, using toxic chemicals to get rid of insects, germs, and weeds can harm students much more than it helps. Studies show children’s developing organs create “early windows of great vulnerability” during which exposure to pesticides can cause great damage. This is supported by the  findings of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) which concluded that, “Children encounter pesticides daily and have unique susceptibilities to their potential toxicity.”  The report also discusses how children  are exposed to pesticides every day in air, food, dust, and soil. Children also frequently come into contact with pesticide residue on pets and after lawn, garden, or household pesticide applications. You can help to eliminate children’s exposure to toxic chemicals by urging school administrators to implement organic management practices that use cultural, mechanical and biological management strategies, and, as a last resort, defined least-toxic pesticides.

Find Out About Your School’s Pest Management  Program

One way to best protect children is to find out if the school has a pest management policy in place already, and identify key allies. Evaluate programs that are already in place, and if need be, work with administrators to create a new policy. Since toxic pesticides are not necessary to effective pest management, it’s important that schools and school districts have a written organic pest management program. This will ensure that the program is institutionalized and will continue to flourish over time. See here for more details and practical steps on how to get organized and improve a  school’s pest management program. For additional information, see Beyond Pesticides’  School Organizing Guide.

Non-Toxic  Lice Management

Just as children go  back to school, research has reported  that lice in 25 of 30 states in a  U.S. study have developed resistance to common over-the-counter treatments like the insecticide  permethrin, and therefore are not effective. Utilizing non-toxic approaches and products is  critical, especially since  lice are not a vector for insect-borne disease, and typical pesticide products used to treat them can be  neurotoxic or carcinogenic. Fortunately, this nuisance insect  can be managed utilizing a number of alternative lice treatment methods that do not include the use of toxic chemicals. One method for eliminating head lice is the use of hot air, which desiccates the insects and eggs, killing them. Lice and their eggs (or nits) can be combed and handpicked, and then destroyed in soapy water. Beyond Pesticide’s ManageSafe Database has a comprehensive webpage dedicated to safe management of lice, in addition to preventive practices.

Pack Organic Lunches or Start an Organic Garden

Organic foods have been shown to reduce dietary pesticide exposure and children who eat a  conventional diet  of food produced with chemical-intensive practices carry residues of neurotoxic organophosphate pesticides that are reduced or eliminated when they switch to an organic diet.  The effects of pesticide exposure have been well documented, particularly for vulnerable segments of the population like children and pregnant women. In 2012, AAP weighed in on the organic food debate, recognizing that lower pesticide residues in organic foods may be significant for children. In addition to direct health effects, the Academy also noted that choosing organic is based on broad  environmental and public health issues, including pollution and global climate change  —a position  that is supported by Beyond Pesticides. Ask the  school to adopt an organic lunch program, starting with organic produce, milk or juice. See, School Lunches Go Organic, for more information.

In addition to serving organic food in the cafeteria, it can be both helpful and a valuable part of the lesson plan to grow food in an organic school garden. For more information, The Organic School Garden (or Grow Your Own Organic Food for technical advice). School gardens teach children where food comes from and establishes healthy relationships with food and the natural world.

Promote Biodiversity with Organic Landscapes and Turf

Biodiversity helps bees and other pollinators; diverse plants produce a supply of nectar throughout the growing season, and biodiversity of soil organisms promotes healthy plants that grow well without the introduction of poisonous pesticides.

Playing fields that are intensively managed with chemicals are at greater risk for disease and weed infestation (leading to a dependence on chemical inputs), compared with practices that build healthy, balanced soil. Similarly, chemically-managed fields are generally harder and more compacted due to a loss of natural soil biology, while organic management focuses on cultural practices, such as aeration that alleviates compaction, improves moisture retention, and provides a softer, better playing surface. See the factsheet, Pesticides and Playing Fields, for more information.

Protect biodiversity through organic turf, playing fields and landscape policies. Encourage the  school to plant pollinator-attractive plants in its garden as part of its biology class. If the  school does not have a garden, request one be integrated into the curriculum. Wildflowers, native plant and grass species should be encouraged on school grounds. For more information on attractive flowers, see the  BEE Protective Habitat Guide. Also see the  Do-It-Yourself Biodiversity factsheet and Managing Landscapes with Pollinators in Mind for resources on building and protecting biodiversity.

For College Students:
On college campuses nationwide, grounds crews and landscapers maintain the land with toxic pesticides, even though safer alternatives exist. College students across the country want their campuses to be a  safe and healthy environment. To assist with college studies, Beyond Pesticides has developed the BEE Protective Ambassador Program.

BEE Protective College Ambassador Program

The widespread use of systemic pesticides in agriculture and landscaping, specifically, a class of insecticides known as neonicotinoids (neonics), has been implicated in causing poor pollinator health and widespread bee deaths. Therefore, a key focus of the program is to eliminate the use of  neonics on college campuses.  A critical part of being a BEE Protective Ambassador is to engage with college  administrators in the creation of a pollinator-friendly campus.

“BEE” prepared: you may get some pushback about phasing out toxic pesticides on campus. But contrary to what some administrators and groundskeepers may tell you, a college campus can be maintained successfully without toxic, systemic pesticides!

With the fall semester rapidly approaching, now is a great time to take the BEE Protective Ambassador Pledge. With assistance from  Beyond Pesticides, BEE ambassadors will be given  educational information to with college  administrators. Students who are interested in joining the movement to protect pollinators and save the bees, can become a Bee Protective Ambassador and sign the  pledge!

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

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