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Toxic Turf

Are pesticides polluting our kids' schoolyards?

Who Controls the Pest Controllers? continued...

It's often difficult to determine that an illness is a direct result of pesticide poisoning, yet many studies link a wide variety of health problems to such exposure. According to the National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides (NCAMP), studies of pesticide harm point to everything from elevated rates of childhood leukemias, soft-tissue sarcomas (aggressive tumors), and brain cancers to childhood asthma and other respiratory problems. In a 1987 study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, children whose parents used pesticides in their homes and gardens were seven times more likely to get leukemia.

To address these issues, Lieberman and colleagues Robert Torricelli, D-N.J., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., have introduced the School Environmental Protection Act (SEPA). That bill would create national guidelines for school pest-management programs. Among other requirements, the bill stipulates that schools look for the least-toxic treatment available for particular problems. According to Joan Clayburgh of Californians for Pesticide Reform, nontoxic pest-control options are currently often overlooked. "People have to ask, Will soap and water or caulking up the cracks work?, before they apply toxic pesticides."

Another significant requirement of the bill is a mandatory 72-hour notice to all parents and school staff prior to pesticide use. Notification would include the name of the pesticide used, any potential adverse effects, and information on where and why it is being applied. Parents would have the option of keeping their children away from areas where herbicides or pesticides were being applied.

The bill, co-written by Kagan Owens of the National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides, is currently in the Committee on Agriculture, awaiting action by the U.S. House of Representatives. Its passage would be a step in the right direction, says Owens. "Unfortunately, we don't have an activist in every corner of the country to fight tooth and nail for the safety of children. We need to establish some federal laws so that every child is protected, whether they live in a so-called progressive place or not."

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