PUBLISHED ON September 21st, 2011
In Pacific Northwest cities such as Portland and Bellevue, pest control techniques must sometimes be applied in schools. From bed bugs to rodents, teachers and commercial pest management experts alike can attest that pests often thrive in school environments. This situation is nothing new – as long as we educate people in large groups, infections and infestations will pop up. However, some parents, teachers and administrators are questioning the type of commercial pest management used in schools. Some say Integrated Pest Management, a low-impact pest control method, is the best approach.
Those who practice Integrated Pest Management educate themselves on how insects and other pests live. Habitat, eating habits, breeding cycles and other characteristics for each pest inform commercial pest management professionals who use Integrated Pest Management techniques. Rather than applying pesticides, these pest management experts make use of their knowledge of each type of pest to find ways to battle them without endangering the health of children or the surrounding environment.
For the reasons listed below, many people are calling for schools to use only earth-friendly Integrated Pest Management (IPM) methods when eradicating pests in schools.
Neurotoxic pesticide residues remain following a non-IPM pesticide application. Studies have found that pesticide residues often contaminate baseboards, floors and even walls in schools. When pesticides are distributed over school grounds – to battle grass pests, for instance – students who play sports are at a high risk of being exposed to dangerous chemicals. That next tackle or dive for the ball could result in pesticide exposure.
The presence of pesticide residues is especially disconcerting because children are more susceptible than adults to the dangerous chemical toxins found in many pesticides. The first reason for this is that they have higher exposure rates to pesticides that commercial pest management companies may apply. Hand-to-mouth, hand-to-ground and hand-to-floor behaviors are observed far more often in children than in adults. These behaviors expose children to the pesticides schools may use to eradicate pests.
Beyond student health, pesticide residue is worrisome because several studies have linked pesticide exposure to learning challenges. For instance, one study discovered a higher incidence of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) among students who had been exposed to pesticides.
Higher levels of cockroach allergens have been found in schools that do not use Integrated Pest Management approaches. Research has shown that children who are exposed to cockroach and other pest-related allergens are more likely to develop asthma, among other diseases. Pesticide exposure can also contribute to the development of childhood-onset asthma.
Even though pesticide application in schools has been linked to numerous health problems, as described above, most of the nation’s schools are not carefully tracking their use of pesticides. Some states, such as Oregon and Washington, require that notices be posted and sent to parents when pesticides will be used. For instance, for schools in Bellevue, pest control must be accompanied by posted notice.
States with the strongest school pesticide laws also require that school administrators check in with a district Integrated Pest Management coordinator before contracting for pesticide use. In general, however, there is very little documentation required of school administrators. This is a major pest control concern in schools, because without proper record keeping there is no way for school administrators to monitor how their decisions regarding pest control are impacting their students.