concerns, but others used indoors pose a much greater
threat. In fact, the EPA has found that pesticide
concentrations are often 10 times higher indoors than
Except in extreme cases, teachers probably won’t
keel over from pesticide poisoning, even with rela~tively
high levels in the air. But they may experience
headaches, dizziness, and other flu-like symptoms, as
well as memory loss and hyperactivity. People with
allergies and asthma may suffer more severe problems.
Students are at an even greater risk because
low-level exposure to the toxins in pesticides can
damage children’s developing nervous systems. Also,
pesticides have a tendency to settle near ground level,
so levels of concentration are often highest close to the
floor, where small children crawl and play.
Janet Orselli, a parent in Franklin, N.C., knows all
too well about pesticides in schools. When she accompa~-
nied her son to his first day of kindergarten, she was
greeted by the powerful odor of a pesticide. She was
particularly upset because her son had a history of
allergies and chemical sensitivities. Orselli has since
formed Parents for Alternatives to Pesti~cides, a local
group dedicated to persuading the Macon County school
system to use less toxic pest-control methods.
Parents and teachers in every state can relate
similar tales of improperly used pesticides. Orselli
offers a distressing example from nearby Greenville,
S.C., where the schools’ grounds supervisor tried to
control head lice by fogging three classrooms with
Lindane, a pesticide that has been banned because it is
a suspected carcinogen. He also regularly applied a
potent agricultural-strength pesticideDiazinon
indoors. In another case, health officials in West
Virginia closed a junior high after finding concentra~-
tions of a carcino~genic termite killer at levels more than
10 times the evacuation threshold.
Such horror stories come as no surprise to people
familiar with the uses and abuses of pesticides in
schools. “Many times,’' says Susan Cooper, staff ecolo~-
gist with the National Coalition Against the Misuse of
Pesticides, “the people who apply pesti~cides are not
trained in their use, and they are not well-aware of the
hazards involved in handling them.’'
Pest paranoia contributes to the overuse of insecti~-
cides. “Teachers see one roach, and they want to go and
spray the whole building,’' Cooper notes. “Teach~ers
need to overcome that initial ‘Kill it!’ reaction.’' Cooper
would like to see teachers help students gain a better
understanding of insectsvery few of which are actu~-
ally pestsand their place in the natural world.
Many school administrators falsely believe that
regular spraying is needed, even if pests aren’t present.
This “calendar spraying’’ increases the concentrations
of toxic chemicals and wastes money, Cooper says.
A few school districts, however, have turned to a less
toxic form of pest control known as integrated pest
management. This system emphasizes strate~gies that
make schools less hospitable places for pests by
improving sanitation and waste disposal, fixing leaks,
drying mops, reducing clutter, and sealing cracks.
Special attention is paid to areas such as kitchens,
dining and snack rooms, and storage facilities. If pests
appear, nontoxic traps are used. If problems persist, a
chemical such as boric acid, which is less toxic than
aspirin, is applied as a last resort.
Cooper encourages concerned teachers to ask ques~-
tions about their district’s pest-control policies: What
are the main pests? How does the district control them?
What pesticides does it use, and how often? Are the
people who apply them certified? Better yet, Cooper
suggests, teachers should discuss with administrators
the possibility of starting an integrated pest manage~-
ment project in their district. Administrators might not
even know there are alternatives to pesticides.
For more information about pesti~cides and pest
control, contact the National Coalition Against the
Misuse of Pesti~cides at 701 E St., S.E., Suite 200,
Washington, DC 20003; (202) 543-5450. The EPA’s
specialist in integrated pest control, William Currie,
can be reached at (703) 557-5076.
A version of this article appeared in the March 01, 1991 edition of Teacher as Pesticides