School Climate & Safety

GAO Finds Information Scant About School Pesticide Use

By Adrienne D. Coles — January 12, 2000 3 min read

Little is known about the use of pesticides in and around schools, a federal report released last week concludes.

Follow-Up

The report can be ordered from the U.S. General Accounting Office, PO Box 37050, Washington, DC 20013. It is also available online at http://www.gao.gov/
new.items/rc00017.pdf
. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

Federal law contains no specific provisions about the use of pesticides in schools and on school campuses, the study by the General Accounting Office found, and comprehensive nationwide information on the amount of pesticides used in the nation’s 110,000 public schools is not available.

The GAO also notes the scarcity of information about illnesses related to pesticide exposure, and the absence of standard criteria for clearly identifying such illnesses.

“What we don’t know can indeed hurt us, and in fact, may be hurting us today because there is a lot that we don’t know,” said Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, D-Conn., who had the congressional investigative agency prepare the report, titled “Pesticides: Use, Effects, and Alternatives to Pesticides in Schools.”

Federal Action Urged

To help remedy that situation, Sen. Lieberman announced that he would sign on as a co-sponsor of the School Environment Protection Act of 1999, proposed legislation that would require the safest methods of pest control be used in school buildings and on school grounds.

The bill was introduced in October by Sen. Robert G. Torricelli, D-N.J.

Mr. Lieberman also urged the Environmental Protection Agency to begin collecting and reviewing data on school pesticide exposure and to formulate a plan for a comprehensive survey on schools’ use of pesticides to better gauge the threat to students and educators.

He further called on the agency to take immediate steps to minimize the risk of exposure by providing guidance to pest-control companies and school officials on the risks of different application methods and by setting strong, uniform guidelines for notifying parents and educators before pesticides are used at schools.

Risk for Children

Exposure to pesticides can cause a range of harmful health effects, including cancer, impairment to the nervous system, lung damage, and reproductive dysfunction. Experts say that children are at greater risk from pesticide exposure than most adults.

According to the report, only one state, Louisiana, specifically requires its school districts to report the amount of pesticides used. In addition, data on short- and long-term illnesses linked to pesticide exposure in schools or other settings are limited. From 1993 to 1996, about 2,300 potentially harmful pesticide-related exposures involving individuals at schools were reported.

‘Double Standard’

The EPA and a number of states have taken action over the past decade to reduce the use of pesticides in schools by employing alternative pest-management strategies. Commonly referred to as integrated pest management, they include structural repairs to prevent pests from getting into facilities and the application of less toxic chemicals. The EPA has provided financial support to states such as Florida and Louisiana and to districts to help in implementing such programs. (“Florida Schools Are Cleaning Up in Effort To Cut Pesticide Usage ,” Dec. 9, 1998.)

Seven states—Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, Texas, and West Virginia— have enacted laws on the implementation of integrated-pest-management programs. Those seven, plus Connecticut and Massachusetts, require some kind of notification before applying pesticides.

“While we have a national framework in place for protecting workers from environmental and health hazards on the job, we have no such system for protecting children from toxic substances in the classroom,” Mr. Lieberman said at a press conference to release the report. “That’s a double standard that deserves attention.”

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A version of this article appeared in the January 12, 2000 edition of Education Week as GAO Finds Information Scant About School Pesticide Use

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