- (WebMD) -- With the coming of spring, children are venturing
outdoors again -- for soccer games, track and field events and lunches
on the schoolyard grass. But according to three U.S. senators, those fields
and lawns may be dangerous for children.
- Schools spray herbicides and pesticides on their grounds
every year to control pests of all kinds, from yellow jackets to ants.
But no one is paying enough attention to the harmful effects that such
chemicals may have on schoolchildren, says Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut,
one of the concerned legislators.
- Like public areas anywhere, classrooms and playgrounds
are inviting places for pests and annoyances: weeds, fleas, mosquitoes,
flies, cockroaches, ants, wasps, mold and mildew, bacteria, rodents and
more. So schools use herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, rodent baits,
disinfectants, wood preservatives, soil sterilants and other chemicals.
Although some schools have set their own standards, there is no overarching
authority regulating what substances are used around school children, and
this has caused mounting concern among parents, environmentalists and government
- QUESTIONS FOR CONDERNED PARENTS
- Here's what to ask school administrators about use of
pesticides and herbicides:
- 1. Does the school district have a written pesticide
policy? If so, ask to see a copy. 2. What method of pest control goes on
at the school? Is there a regular schedule? 3. Is pest control a contracted
or an in-house function? 4. If control is contracted, is the company licensed?
5. What chemicals are used and in what ways? 6. What kinds of records are
kept on pesticide applications? 7. Is there a file kept on product labels
and Material Safety Data Sheets for the substances used? 8. Are nonchemical
alternatives considered? 9. What is the school's policy on advance notification
of spraying and application? 10. Are treated areas posted, before and after
application? 11. Have there been any reported cases of illness attributed
to pest control? 12. Does the school's emergency plan address possible
pesticide accidents or exposure?
- For more information about pesticides and herbicides
at schools, contact the <http://www.ncamp.orgNational Coalition Against
Misuse of Pesticides.
- Lieberman is a sponsor of a U.S. Senate bill to make
school districts accountable for the pesticides and herbicides they use
in and around schools. Workplaces have far stricter standards, he says,
than do schools, and he is also urging the Environmental Protection Agency
to step up surveys of what's used in and around the places where children
spend most of their days.
- According to a report released just over a month ago
by the U.S. Government Accounting Office, <http://www.gao.gov/new.items/rc00017.pdf"Use,
Effects, and Alternatives to Pesticides in Schools," most states have
no procedures for tracking or regulating pest-control procedures in schools.
And in the past few years there have been sufficient numbers of children
exposed to pesticides on school grounds to warrant concern. The Government
Accounting Office has tracked more than 2,000 instances of pesticide exposure
in schools over three years -- including more than a dozen cases requiring
- Controlling pest controllers
- Children, because of their smaller bodies and developing
systems, are more vulnerable to pesticides than adults. The General Accounting
Office notes that its figures are probably understated since there is still
no national system for collecting data on pesticide exposure among schoolchildren.
- That's part of the problem, Lieberman says. "What
we don't know can indeed hurt us."
- Dr. Marion Moses, director of the Pesticide Education
Center in San Francisco, California, notes that at least one commonly used
class of pesticides, organophosphates, can adversely affect the heart --
and this effect is just the tip of the iceberg. That kind of danger, says
Moses, is reason enough to remove these pesticides from schools. The long
list of other substances commonly used in and around schools includes chlorpyifos
(Dursban), an insecticide that, in large doses, is also a nervous-system
poison; synthetic pyrethroids, including cypermethrin, which the EPA lists
as a possible carcinogen; and Diazinon, frequently used on lawns, which
can trigger nausea, dizziness, headaches and aching joints, and, in large
doses, can act as a nervous-system poison. Some chemicals can do damage
with minimal exposure; others require direct or prolonged exposure to cause
- It's often difficult to determine that an illness is
a direct result of pesticide poisoning, yet many studies link a wide variety
of health problems to such exposure. According to the National Coalition
Against the Misuse of Pesticides, studies of pesticide harm point to everything
from elevated rates of childhood leukemias, soft-tissue sarcomas (aggressive
tumors), and brain cancers to childhood asthma and other respiratory problems.
In a 1987 study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute,
children whose parents used pesticides in their homes and gardens were
seven times more likely to get leukemia.
- To address these issues, Lieberman and colleagues Sens.
Robert Torricelli of New Jersey and Patty Murray of Washington have introduced
the School Environmental Protection Act . That bill would create national
guidelines for school pest-management programs.
- Among other requirements, the bill stipulates that schools
look for the least-toxic treatment available for problems. According to
Joan Clayburgh of Californians for Pesticide Reform, nontoxic pest-control
options are often overlooked. "People have to ask, Will soap and water
or caulking up the cracks work?, before they apply toxic pesticides."
- Another significant requirement of the bill is a mandatory
72-hour notice to all parents and school staff before pesticide use. Notification
would include the name of the pesticide used, any potential adverse effects,
and information on where and why it is being applied. Parents would have
the option of keeping their children away from areas where herbicides or
pesticides were being applied.
- The bill, co-written by Kagan Owens of the National Coalition
Against the Misuse of Pesticides, is in the Committee on Agriculture, awaiting
action by the U.S. House of Representatives. Its passage would be a step
in the right direction, says Owens.
- "Unfortunately, we don't have an activist in every
corner of the country to fight tooth and nail for the safety of children,"
Owens says. "We need to establish some federal laws so that every
child is protected, whether they live in a so-called progressive place
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