Pesticides in schools are a pervasive, unnecessary health hazard, said Marc Lame, an entomologist and professor in Indiana University's School of Public and Environmental Affairs.
"Over 80 percent of schools in America are applying pesticides on a regular basis, whether they have a pest problem or not," he said. "This is tragic not only because of the well-documented link between pesticides and health problems in children, such as asthma and neurological disorders, but also because pesticides generally do not work in a preventive manner in the school environment. Applying pesticides does not prevent pests from coming in, so using them when pests are not present does nothing other than expose children and staff to toxic chemicals."
The most widely used insecticides are nerve poisons, which cause nerves to fire in an uncontrolled manner and disrupt endocrine (hormone) systems, Lame said. Prolonged exposure to these chemicals can result in similar effects on the human nervous system, with symptoms ranging from vomiting to severe breathing problems.
Although research is limited, these endocrine disrupting pesticides are suspected in problems ranging from ADHD to autism to infertility, Lame said. Exposure during childhood carries the greatest risk. "The thing to remember is that it is not just a question of children being smaller than adults and getting more exposure pound-for-pound. The even more serious issue is that their nervous systems are still developing, so they are especially susceptible to nerve poisons," he said.
Lame said pest problems are better managed with an integrated approach that involves recognition and remediation of conditions that attract pests or allow pests to enter facilities. "It's common sense pro-action rather than toxic reaction," he said. Lame serves as a consultant for schools and environmental health agencies around the country, helping them implement such programs through a process known as Integrated Pest Management (IPM).
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