Delaware Students Outraged at Negligent Pesticide Policies

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–October 19, 2012.  School is a place where children need a healthy body and a clear head in order to learn. Despite a successful trend toward nonchemical strategies, pesticides remain prevalent and are widely used today in universities, schools, and daycare facilities. Kelsey Crain, an undergraduate student at University of Delaware, first became aware of the issue when, “I noticed there was this weird rash on my legs which wasn’t there before I was on The Green.” Kayla Iuliano, Crain’s friend and reporter at the student-run University of Delaware Review, probed the University about why there was no notification, and in return was given standard bureaucratic prose: “University Spokesman John Brennan stated in an email message that workers are not required to post signs when areas are sprayed because the chemicals are not harmful when used properly, and personnel are trained in how to apply them,” she wrote in the University of Delaware Review. “He said the sprays are commonly used commercial products and are registered for use with the Environmental Protection Agency. ‘They are recognized in the industry as safe when applied as directed’.”

The pesticide widely applied to the Green is called “PowerZone,” which is composed of 41.98 percent MCPA 2-ethylhexyl ester, or Mecoprop, according to its product label. This so-called “safe” chemical is considered a “possible” carcinogen, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, a division of the Center for Disease Control. Mecoprop labels indicated that grass treated with the chemical should be allowed to set for a period of 48 hours and that immediate exposure to mecoprop can cause symptoms like burning skin and eyes, nausea, dizziness, and headaches.

Unfortunately, neither the university nor the state of Delaware require pesticide applicators to post signs that notify of spraying, which means that even after pesticides have just been sprayed, students may be walking, sitting, and lying in toxic pesticides that should be allowed at least a few hours to properly dry. Students that use the common area are completely unaware of the risks; the university and state have failed to protect them from these toxic pesticides.

Of the 30 most commonly used lawn pesticides, 19 can cause cancer, 13 are linked to birth defects, 21 can affect reproduction and 15 are nervous system toxicants. The most popular and widely used lawn chemical, 2,4-D, which kills broad leaf weeds like dandelions, is an endocrine disruptor with predicted human health hazards ranging from changes in estrogen and testosterone levels, thyroid problems, prostate cancer, and reproductive abnormalities. 2,4-D has also been linked to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Other lawn chemicals like glyphosate (Roundup), have also been linked to serious adverse chronic effects in humans. Many pesticides affect the immune system, which can result in increased problems with allergies, asthma, hypersensitivity to chemicals and a reduced ability to combat infections and cancer. A study found organophosphate pesticides cause genetic damage linked to neurological disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and Parkinson’s disease.

Chemical-intensive pest control tends to ignore the causes of pest infestations and instead relies on scheduled pesticide applications or unnecessary toxic chemical use. Pesticides typically provide a temporary fix and are ineffective over the long-term. In addition, the most common insects are now resistant to many insecticides. Because certain insects and toxic pesticides pose a health risk to children, schools need to implement a comprehensive school IPM program to prevent and manage pest problems. A comprehensive IPM program utilizes pest prevention and management strategies that exclude pests from the school facility through habitat modification, entry way closures, structural repairs, sanitation practices, natural organic management of playing fields and landscapes, other non-chemical, mechanical and biological methods, and the use of the least-toxic pesticides only as a last resort.

In 2002, Beyond Pesticides identified 10,108 school districts, or 59 percent of the school districts in the U.S., in 37 states that have a policy with one or more of the following four criteria: (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. While this report does not evaluate whether all these schools are implementing these policies effectively, it does show the number of schools that have adopted some requirements, either through a state law or local school district policy, toward the protection of children from school pesticide use. 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.

As of 2010, 21 states address IPM in their laws, but only 15 of these require schools to adopt an IPM program. Of the 21 states, California, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts and Minnesota, have comprehensive definitions of IPM, and allow only the least-toxic pesticide to be used as a last resort. Four states, Massachusetts, Oregon, Texas and West Virginia, approach the issue of defining least-toxic pesticides. Only two states, Massachusetts and Oregon, prohibit certain toxic pesticides from being used in an IPM program. For example, Oregon IPM law only allows a “low impact pesticide” to be used, which is defined as a pesticide that is not an EPA toxicity category I and II pesticide product (bares the words “Warning” or “Danger” on its label), or contains an ingredient listed by EPA as a known, probable or likely carcinogen. (There is an exemption for a public health emergency.) In addition, pesticides may not be used for routine, preventive purposes. Massachusetts and Maine prohibits the use of aerosol/liquid spray pesticides inside school buildings, with an exception for approved public health emergency situations. Their laws also prohibit the use of known, probably or likely carcinogens as well as products that contain EPA List 1, Inerts of Toxicological Concern. Although its law does not prohibit toxic chemical use, Texas defines “green category pesticides” and West Virginia defines “least hazardous pesticides” as products that EPA considers less acutely toxic. These are listed as toxicity category III and IV pesticide products (bares the word “Caution” on its label), excluding the more toxic categories I and II pesticides. Oregon and Texas also require the school districts’ IPM coordinator to approve the use of higher hazard pesticide applications Maine only allows an indoor pesticide spray application for public health pest problems.

Raising the level of protection across the nation to meet the highest possible standard of protection for children is essential. Schools should be environmentally safe places for children to learn. It often takes a pesticide poisoning, repeated illnesses, or a strong advocate to alert a school district to the acute and chronic adverse health effects of pesticides and the viability of safer pest management strategies. IPM strategies are practical, feasible, and cost-effective tools to reducing student and school staff’s exposure to hazardous pesticides.

We applaud recent efforts by State Senator Gene Davis (D-Utah), who has announced plans to sponsor legislation that requires notification when nearby homes are being treated with toxic pesticides. Pre-notification is a critical step in the right direction to allow people to avoid unwanted chemical exposures. Utah’s current pesticide notification system is voluntary. While pesticide applicators are required to alert their customers of the dangers associated with certain pesticides they apply, residents are not required currently to notify their neighbors when they apply pesticides around their home. Property owners should be informed about the possible contamination of their property and of threats to their family and pets from the application of pesticides.

Take Action: To see what pesticide laws are enacted in your state see Beyond Pesticides’ state pages. Know of a policy that’s not listed, or do you know of efforts to change policy in your state or community? Send an email to [email protected].

Sources: University of Delaware Review

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.