Are pesticides polluting our kids' schoolyards?
Who Controls the Pest Controllers?
Children, because of their smaller body mass and developing systems, are
more vulnerable to pesticides than adults. The GAO notes that its figures are
probably understated since there is still no national system for collecting
data on pesticide exposure among schoolchildren.
That's part of the problem, says Lieberman. "What we don't know can
indeed hurt us." Marion Moses, M.D., Director of the Pesticide Education
Center in San Francisco, Calif., notes that at least one commonly used class of
pesticides, organophospates, can adversely affect the heart -- and this effect
is just the tip of the iceberg. That kind of danger, says Moses, is reason
enough to remove these pesticides from schools. The long list of other
substances commonly used in and around schools includes chlorpyifos (Dursban),
an insecticide that, in large doses, is also a nervous-system poison; synthetic
pyrethroids, including cypermethrin, which the EPA lists as a possible
carcinogen; and Diazinon, frequently used on lawns, which can trigger nausea,
dizziness, headaches, and aching joints, and, in large doses, can act as a
nervous-system poison. Some chemicals can do damage with minimal exposure;
others require direct or prolonged exposure to cause harm.
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