Children & Pesticide Exposure at School
By Patricia Dines
The Next STEP, Volume II, Number 5
(c) Patricia Dines, 2002. All rights reserved.
In September 2000, California passed the Healthy Schools Act, requiring public schools to inform parents about the use of toxic pesticides that might harm their children's health. The Act, which went into effect January 2001, also encouraged schools to develop and implement plans to reduce pesticide use.
A recent report on the implementation of this Act shows that some schools have significantly improved their pest management practices while others are still using very toxic pesticides. It also found that some schools have not fully implemented the law, for instance failing to inform parents of pesticide use or not making that information easily available.
Children can be exposed to toxic pesticides at school in many ways &endash; on lawns, pathways, playgrounds, sports fields, and inside buildings. Intended to kill weeds, insects, and other pests, these pesticides can also harm children's developing neurological, reproductive, and immune systems, and increase their chances of getting cancer. Children have been shown to be even more affected by pesticides than adults, because they play on the ground and put things in their mouths; eat more food, drink more fluids, and breathe more air in proportion to their body weight than adults; and have immune systems that are not yet fully developed.
Often this risk to children is just not necessary, when less-toxic approaches can be as effective (or even better), often at a reasonable cost.
So what pesticides are currently being used at your child's school? The Healthy Schools Act helps you find out &endash; and helps you encourage your school to choose less-toxic practices. If you haven't received notification from your school about their planned pesticide use, call and ask their plans for implementing this law. It's important that schools know that this is important to parents.
If your school indicates that it's planning to use toxic pesticides, the law specifies that you can ask to be notified before each application. It also requires schools to post warning signs before and after application, and to keep track of all pesticides used, making that information available to the public upon request.
You can also ask the school if they plan to develop a strong Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program that prioritizes children's health. Oakland Unified, San Francisco Unified, and Los Angeles Unified school districts have all passed strong IPM policies.
A good IPM program will systematically analyze pest problems; start with less-toxic alternatives; and only use a more toxic solution if the potential benefit is worth the additional health risk to everyone at the school. Even schools committed to avoiding toxic pesticides benefit from having an IPM program that spells out how they will respond to pest problems.
Another way you can help reduce children's exposure to toxics is to urge state policymakers to ban the use of highly toxic pesticides in California schools and other sites where children are likely to face exposure.
Says Martha Dina Arquello, Environmental Health Coordinator at Physicians for Social Responsibility in Los Angeles, "Alternatives to toxic pesticides work &endash; we know this from experience in some of the state's largest school districts. It's time for school officials to get serious, pass strong IPM policies and stop using pesticides around children."
To get a copy of the report, Learning Curve: Charting Progress on Pesticide Use and the Healthy Schools Act, see <www.CalHealthySchools. org> or call (888) CPR-4880. The report and website include background information and support for actions you can take.
The California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) website also has information for parents and schools about implementing the Act, including information about alternatives. Go to <www.cdpr.ca.gov/cfdocs/apps/schoolipm/main.cfm>.
There's good news for parents and children in the Sebastopol Union School District, which includes Brook Haven, Park Side, and Pine Crest Schools. The District chose to stop using all synthetic pesticides at the same time the City did in 2000. They're in the process of implementing other aspects of the Act. Parents at other schools who don't receive notification about their school's plans under the Act can contact their school for more information.
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