On a recent Friday afternoon in Bridgeport, Suzanne was leading her fifth
graders and a combined kindergarten-first grade class to the school
cafeteria for a multi-age, hands-on activity. Before they got to the
cafeteria's locked door, a strong odor of pesticides assaulted them. They
made a hasty retreat to their classroom. The band practicing in the
hallway outside of the cafeteria, however, continued rehearsing there.
At the end of the day, the reading specialist, whose office is right next
to the cafeteria, wondered why her eyes were itchy and watering. Suzanne
learned from the school custodian that he had questioned the exterminator
about spraying pesticides during school hours. He was told that it was
okay because the exterminators always spray while children are in school.
Unfortunately, this situation is not unusual. Connecticut has no
regulations covering the use of these toxic pesticides in schools. Last
year, a Woodbridge parent told Environmental and Human Health, Inc., a
private, non-profit organization, about her son's illness which resulted
from pesticide-use at his school. This incident raised many questions. As
a result, the organization decided to conduct a survey.
Last week, the results, entitled Pest Control Practices in Connecticut
Public Schools, were released at a press conference in Hartford. Attorney
General Blumenthal attended to lend his support.
More than half of Connecticut's school districts responded to the survey.
Bridgeport was not one of them. Eighty-seven percent said they sprayed
pesticides indoors, and one-third reported that they sprayed routinely,
whether or not pests were present. Urban, suburban and rural school
districts applied pesticides to kitchens, cafeterias, locker rooms,
classrooms, hallways, children's lunch storage areas and athletic fields.
Eight of the ten routinely-used pesticides are nerve toxins. Designed to
poison living things, they have a wide range of unpleasant short-term, as
well as debilitating long-term effects. These chemicals mimic hormones
used by the human body to control immune, endocrine, reproductive and
nervous systems. Common symptoms of pesticide poisoning- headache, nausea,
vomiting and fever- may be misdiagnosed because they are so similar to
those of the flu and children's normal complaints.
Chlorpyrifos (trade name Dursban), used in some schools, is an
organophosphate pesticide which is currently undergoing special review by
the EPA because of concerns about its toxicity and widespread use.
Despite federal, state and local education, environment and health agencies
which should be protecting our children's welfare, it is currently legal
and common practice to apply pesticides while children are in school. Any
town employee can spray general-use pesticides. Licensed exterminators can
apply more dangerous, restricted-use chemicals. The professionals may be
better trained, but the survey found that the school districts using
professionals sprayed more often. Some schools were sprayed more than once
At the press conference, Yale Professor John Wargo spoke of the special
chemical-injury risks pesticides pose to children because they are growing
and their bodily systems change rapidly. Exposures to these chemicals,
which are also used on food crops and in pet flea collars, are cumulative.
Any pregnant women in these buildings are also at special risk. Many
students in urban or agricultural areas may be already suffering from
compromised endocrine systems due to environmental contaminants.
Although these pesticides may have been tested separately by their
manufacturers for their effects on healthy adults, no tests have addressed
individual or synergistic effects on children.
Environmental and Human Health, Inc. hopes that the attention it has
brought to this situation will get parents and teachers to ask questions
and express their opinions. The group also recommends that a program of
Integrated Pest Management (or IPM) be used in schools. This approach
uses non-toxic and mechanical methods first and sprays poisons only as a
last resort. Among the other recommendations are notification of staff and
parents before pesticide-spraying, no spraying while buildings are
occupied, and complete record-keeping at each school.
Ending the poisoning of Connecticut's school children should be a
This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth
(C)1999, Bill Duesing, Solar Farm Education, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491
Bill and Suzanne Duesing operate the Old Solar Farm (raising NOFA/CT
certified organic vegetables) and Solar Farm Education (working on urban
agriculture projects in southern Connecticut and producing "Living on the
Earth" radio programs). Their collection of essays Living on the Earth:
Eclectic Essays for a Sustainable and Joyful Future is available from Bill
Duesing, Box 135, Stevenson, CT 06491 for $12 postpaid. These essays first
appeared on WSHU, public radio from Fairfield, CT. New essays are posted
weekly at http://www.wshu.org/duesing and those since November 1995 are
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