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Pesticide-free in Oregon Schools

When it comes to cockroaches in the cafeteria and mice in the classroom, Aimee Code says, “There is risky pesticide use occurring in our schools.” Code is an environmental health associate of the Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides (NCAP). “The fact that we want to institutionalize caution makes perfect sense to me,” she says.

Under legislation, enacted as of Monday, July 1, all Oregon schools are now required to implement an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) plan that would remove harmful pesticides from the classroom, thus reducing exposure of Oregon’s school children to potentially dangerous and harmful toxins. “This law will ensure that previous pest-preventative action is employed before resorting to pesticides,” Code says, prompting schools “to think through how to be smart and manage the problem without using chemicals.”

“There’s a need to just raise awareness where there wasn’t enough before,” she says.

So a band of organizations including, among others, NCAP and Eugene-based Beyond Toxics (formerly Oregon Toxics Alliance), formed a working group in 2008 to address the issue of pesticide use occurring in schools.

“We invited members of communities that had rural schools where parents felt that their children had been sickened by pesticide exposure,” says Lisa Arkin, executive director of Beyond Toxics. 

Code describes incidents pesticides were applied in and around schools — such as when she observed “un-contained mouse killers within reach of school children.” There was real concern, Code says, with the fact that anyone — with or without a pesticide application license in tow — is freely able to apply dangerous chemicals that are still readily available on the local market. Particular concern pinpointed on areas children come into contact with, such as on school playgrounds, or in the classroom. “I was nervous,” says Code, “I don’t want this type of exposure to happen to my kid.”

What the working group in 2008 was looking for, says Code, were “smarter alternatives that are going to be more protective and healthy for children.” “In 2009 we got legislation passed,” she said, “Implementation was to begin in 2012.” Oregon schools had three years to prepare.

Now that the law is in effect, the issue of funding arises: “Schools have less and less money and more and more responsibilities,” says Code. “But these are risks that can be absolutely avoided. There are a number of resources for school districts to look to” says Code, “to provide outreach for districts to make the management changes.” 

OSU Extension is one example, working to amass resources for those that can’t implement the legislation on their own for lack of resources. “The extension has really cobbled together different grants and funds,” Code says. And, according to a press release made by NCAP, “Some [school] districts have engaged directly with OSU and with groups like NCAP to conduct pilot projects and test new techniques on their campuses.” Essentially giving them a head start.

Leading that is Tim Stock of OSU’s Integrated Plant Protection Center’s School IPM Progra. Stock created a template for pest management in schools as part of a pilot project conducted in a partnership with NCAP. “Our program has trained most of the school districts in Lane County,” he says, “and is providing more intensive assistance through the pilot project.” This will, Stock says, “build up their expertise so they can eventually serve as a model for their peers.” 

Nevertheless, up-front costs may still pose an issue for some schools, but Arkin says “in the case of a public building, the research has shown over and over again that using Integrated Pest Management is cheaper.” “IPM fixes the structural problem,” she says, “ it plugs up the holes.”

If you don’t do things like that, Arkin says, “The rodents will just keep getting in.” So, by attacking the problem at the source, schools can benefit in the long run, she says, “Because you’re not repeating those chemical treatments.”

And if a pesticide must be used, Arkin says, “They can’t just pull out the big guns.”

Some strengths of the bill, she says, “include very stringent requirements for the use of pesticides.” That means schools won’t be allowed to use them in landscaping any longer or for the football field, for example.

So part of what the working group did was develop non-chemical alternatives to pesticides.

Arkin described this hypothetical situation: “Let’s say a school had rodents.” Before using something to kill those mice or rats, she says, schools need to first get students to clean up their lockers.” The kitchen might also be sanitized, Arkin says, “to make sure there are no stray crumbs,” the kind of thing that might attract mice.

If none of these actions yield success, Arkin says, before pesticides can be put into action, “there’s a decision tree that has to be gone through.” It’s a way to ensure that non-toxic methods were first attempted. Only if all those attempts failed, she says, can a school consider using pesticides. But even then, there are still stringent regulations on their use. And since the “big guns” won’t even really be an option anymore, schools will be limited to only using low-toxicity pesticides.

And when pesticide use finally does need to become that last-ditch solution, the bill states that only a licensed pesticide applicator may apply the pesticides, instead of a janitor, for example, or — as Code says had been the case in at least one situation in the past — students.

A report published by Beyond Toxics in 2008 that can be found online (see below) lays out an intensive study of pesticide exposure in Oregon schools. “We believe it was this report that was the main catalyst for the bill,” Arkin says. 

Despite having achieved this milepost, the working group is still working: “We’ll be going back to the legislature in the coming year with another bill to expand that concept to other public property and buildings,” Arkin says. Because, she says, “the public has a right to expect they’re safe.”

For more information, visit http://www.ipmnet.org/tim/ and http://www.beyondtoxics.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/PesticidesInOurSc...