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Congress to consider school pesticide ban

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When Congress reconvenes after the August recess it is expected to take up Senate Bill 855, also known as the Children’s Environmental Protection Act, which would require notification to parents of the pesticide used in and around schools. If enacted, the bill would ban the use of pesticides altogether on all schools and day care centers receiving federal funding within two years.

The Senate bill was introduced in May by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). It recognizes that the metabolism, physiology and diet of children differ significantly from that of adults. Children are more susceptible than adults to the harmful effects of environmental pollutants.

The National Academy of Sciences, which recently conducted a study of the effects of pesticides on children, concluded that the current methods in place to assess the health risks of pesticides don’t take into account the higher susceptibility of children, and that current standards don’t adequately protect children from environmental pollutants.

If Senate Bill 855 is approved, school administrators would be required to notify parents in writing of indoor or outdoor pesticide application at schools at least 72 hours in advance. The notices must describe the area to be sprayed and the pesticide used. Warnings consistent with pesticide labels also would be posted at sites that have been treated with pesticide.

School administrators could suspend the law if a pest control emergency exists that jeopardizes the health and safety of people in the school. The school board for Missoula County Public Schools, Missoula’s largest school district, also plans to tackle a similar issue regarding weed management on school grounds. David Merrill, a MCPS board member, favors SB 855 and says the school board plans to work on a weed management plan that will also include a notification provision.

“Generally speaking, I’m very much in favor of not using pesticides when that’s a reasonable option,” says Merrill. “Also, (notification) is just basically morality. It’s just fair.”

Merrill says that when pesticides become more noticeable through public notification, applicators are likely to be more cautious when spraying, and may choose not to apply pesticides at all.

Likewise, the school board is considering developing a weed management policy. “Of course, notification will be part of that,” says Merrill. “I think we should be very, very hesitant about using pesticides on school property.”

Senate bill 855 has been referred to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. The 19-member committee includes Boxer, Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY). Baucus did not respond to requests for comments.

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