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WASHINGTON DC — While over 4,500 school districts in 28 states, or 26.6% of 17,000 school districts nationwide, impose requirements that their schools adopt methods to reduce children's exposure to pesticides, the vast majority of school children go unprotected, according to a new study released by Beyond Pesticides today. Despite federal government efforts that urge the voluntary adoption of such measures, the study finds that voluntary, as opposed to mandatory, state programs, have failed across the board.

A new study, published by Beyond Pesticides in the latest issue of the quarterly newsmagazine Pesticides and You, finds that without protective federal or state law, the vast majority of school districts are unlikely to voluntarily adopt safer school pest management and pesticide policies and that state laws that only recommend their adoption are ineffective.

The study, Are Schools Making the Grade? School districts nationwide adopt safer pest management policies, documents the 10,108 school districts in 37 states that have taken some action to protect children from school pests and pesticide use by adopting state and local polices that require safer school pest management practices. The survey results show that 59% of the 17,000 school districts in the United States, have adopted policies requiring one or more of the following components: (i) establish an integrated pest management (IPM) program; (ii) provide prior written notification of a pesticide application; (iii) post pesticide use notification signs; and, (iv) prohibit certain toxic pesticide applications.

Voluntary adoption and state and federal recommendations to adopt safer policies do little to get schools on the right track, according to Are Schools Making the Grade? Of the 59% of school districts required to have such policies, only 367 school districts and 16 individual schools have voluntarily adopted policies that go beyond their state requirements.

The state of Indiana serves as an exception to this finding, where 253 out of 289 school districts, or 88%, have voluntarily adopted a policy that includes IPM and prior notification of pesticide use. In this instance, the threat of a state law proved to be highly effective in pushing school districts to adopt such pest management strategies. In 2001, the Indiana legislature decided that legislation would be put on hold pending adequate voluntary adoption by schools. A model policy, developed by the Indiana Pesticide Review Board with the input of child advocacy groups and school IPM experts and approved by the Indiana School Board Association, continues to be adopted across the state. Unfortunately, 12 percent of school districts are not protected in the state.

Of the approximately 17,000 school districts around the country:
- 26.6% are required to have an IPM policy;
- 43.1% are required to provide prior written notification of pesticide use;
- 56.7% are required to post pesticide use notification signs for either indoor or outdoor applications; and,
- 18.9% have restrictions on certain pesticides.

“While it is reassuring to see so many schools adopt safer pest management policies,” stated Kagan Owens, co-author of the study and program director at Beyond Pesticides, “we are concerned about the number of children that are not protected by a state or local policy and are unknowingly exposed to the unnecessary use of pesticides. Even within those states and school districts that have adopted a policy, there are still large gaps within existing programs where children go without adequate protection.”

“Considering the amount of resources developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state Departments of Agriculture and state university extension offices, it is surprising that more school districts are not voluntarily adopting such measures,” stated Owens. “This shows that while the U.S. EPA recommends all the nation’s schools adopt safer practices, a simple recommendation does little to get schools to actually implement these strategies. State and federal legislation is needed now more than ever to protect children and facilitate schools adopt effective pest management strategies that do not rely on hazardous pesticides.”

“While schools are held to the highest academic standards possible, schools falter with regard to enforcing the highest possible safety standards,” stated Cortney Piper, co-author of the study. “Academic excellence cannot be expected if children are not provided an environment that grants them the ability to grow physically.”

IPM is a program of prevention, monitoring and control which offers the opportunity to eliminate or drastically reduce pesticides at schools, and to minimize the toxicity of and exposure to any products which are used. The schools highlighted in the study prove that pests can be managed effectively and economically without toxic pesticides through the implementation of a clearly defined IPM program.

The study, published in the latest issue of Beyond Pesticides’ quarterly newsmagazine, Pesticides and You (volume 22, no. 3), does not evaluate whether these policies are implementing these policies. The findings of the study are based on Beyond Pesticides’ review of all state pesticide laws and local school district policies and programs that go beyond their state law. The information on school districts’ policies was obtained from a survey of Beyond Pesticides’ network of activists, policy makers, PTA’s, state extension agents, pest management companies, and school administrators. Beyond Pesticides publicizes school pesticide policies to educate the public on these critical issues.

According to the National Academy of Sciences, children are among the least protected population group when it comes to pesticide exposure and that EPA generally lacks the data on children that is necessary to fully protect them. Pesticide exposure reports show that pesticides can be harmful to people even when used according to label directions.

Without a federal law regulating school pesticide use, such as the pending School Environment Protect Act, it is up to states and local school districts to provide children the protection they need from hazardous chemical exposure while at school.

According to Beyond Pesticides’ The Schooling of State Pesticide Laws -2002 Update, thirty-three states have taken some action to step in and provide protective action to address pesticide use in, around or near their schools. These include a mixture of pesticide restrictions and pesticide use notification. Because state protection is uneven across the country, many local school districts have adopted similar, and sometimes more restrictive, pest management polices.

Monday, January 06, 2003
For more information, contact:
Kagan Owens

Program Director
Beyond Pesticides/National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides

"Serious problems cannot be dealt with at the level of thinking that created them."
 Albert Einstein
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