Beyond Pesticides’ Back to School Checklist

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–August 23, 2011.  It’s that time of the year again for kids to return to the classroom. For others it’s their first time meeting new friends, new teachers in a new school. However, children may face unexpected dangers from antibacterial chemicals and other pesticides used in and around schools. The body of evidence in scientific literature shows that pesticide exposure can adversely affect a child’s neurological, respiratory, immune, and endocrine systems, even at low levels.

In preparation for the new school year, Beyond Pesticides has put together this easy back to school checklist to help safeguard your kids from the dangers that may be lurking at school. Check off the items on this list to start the new school year right and ensure that you are sending your kids back to school to a healthier and safer environment.

1. Get Triclosan Out Of Your School and School Supplies.

Studies have increasingly linked triclosan (and its chemical cousin triclocarban), to a range of adverse health and environmental effects, from skin irritation, endocrine disruption and antibiotic resistance, to dioxin contamination and destruction of fragile aquatic ecosystems.

Avoid products that are labeled Microban or “with antibacterial protection” as they may contain triclosan, nanoparticles or other dangerous antibacterial agents. Some brands to look out for include: Avery (binders, paper), C-Line (sheet protectors, project folders), Sharp (calculators), Ticonderoga (pencils, permanent markers, highlighters). Others school items that may contain antibacterial agents include soaps, lunch kits, backpacks, erasers, socks, clothing, plastic containers. Read the label to avoid these products. See a list of common triclosan-containing products.

Ask your school to order regular soap from its usual janitorial product supplier and that all cleansers and sanitizers used by the school be triclosan-free. Remember, to sanitize hands and school items simple soap and water works best! Download the back-to-school Triclosan & Germs factsheet.

Take Action: Bath and Body Works has marketed an entire line of triclosan-containing antibacterial body care products to teenagers. Tell Bath & Body Works’ CEO: “Stop using toxic triclosan in your products.”

2. Improve Your School’s IPM Program

Children face unique hazards from pesticide exposure. They take in more pesticides relative to their body weight than adults in the food they eat and air they breathe. Their developing organ systems often make them more sensitive to toxic exposure. A strong integrated pest management (IPM) policy is one of the best ways to minimize or eliminate children’s exposure to pesticides while at school. Along with reducing the use of toxic pesticides on school grounds and playing fields, school districts can also save money.

Improving a school’s pest management program requires perseverance. Since pest control is not often a large part of the school’s budget, many administrators do not consider it a focus and are likely to be uninformed about their school’s policy and any available alternatives. Work with your school to stop using hazardous pesticides and adopt safer solutions and practices that have been adopted in schools across the country. While the alternatives are being put in place, ask the school to provide staff and parents with prior notice before pesticides are used. For more details on improving your school’s IPM policy, see our guide on School Organizing for Safer Pest Management.

3. Be Wary of Bed Bugs

Unfortunately, the overuse of pesticides along with an increase in international travel have contributed to a resurgence of bed bugs. Pesticides registered by EPA for bed bug use are linked to acute poisoning, cancer, hormone disruption, asthma, neurotoxicity, organ damage, and more. Worse yet, insecticides are generally ineffective due to resistance. Fortunately, bed bugs do not transmit disease and can be controlled without toxic pesticides.

Bed bug infestation is not limited to bedrooms and hotel rooms, so be sure to check backpacks, clothing and school supplies (like binders and books) for bed bugs regularly. Preventing bed bugs from spreading to the home or classroom is much easier than eradicating an infestation. For more information on prevention and comtrol, download the Bed Bug Factsheet.

4. Look Out for Lice

Anyone can get head lice, no matter how often you wash or comb your hair. Lice are a common concern for elementary school-aged children, but don’t go reaching for toxic lice shampoos! Products containing lindane and permethrin have been linked to cancer, neurological damage and more.

Successful treatment of lice starts with prevention, depends on an integrated approach that relies on using a few different methods, including monitoring, establishing “no share” policies for hair accessories, physical removal and heat. More information can be found in our factsheet, “Getting Nit Picky about Head Lice.”

5. Eat Organic Foods When Possible

Organic foods are not only healthier for children as it reduces their dietary intake of toxic pesticide residues, but organic is also more sustainable for the environment and for farmworker health. If you are unable to eat all organic, purchase organic varieties of the foods you and your kids eat the most of, such as milk, juice or eggs.

Ask your school administration to consider switching to organic produce, milk or juice if possible. Find out more about the chemicals used in food production in “Eating with a Conscience.” For more information on organic school lunches and getting organic food into your school, see Beyond Pesticides’ factsheets “School Lunches Go Organic” and “Organizing for Organic School Lunches.”

6. Join or Start an Organic School Garden

It’s easier to eat organic when you grow organic! School gardens and farm-to-table programs teach school children where food comes from and helps establish healthy relationships with food and the natural world.

For more information on how to get involved, see Beyond Pesticides’ factsheets, “The Organic School Garden” and “Grow Your Own Organic Food.”