Local Districts Move to Ban Chemical Pesticides and Herbicides from Schools 

Following the lead of an innovative and successful program on the Cal campus, local schools are adopting integrated pest management methods

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Despite the UC Berkeley model, many school districts just a few miles away from Cal are still practicing the same old spray regimens for their pest problems. But several districts are slowly but surely changing their ways. The Berkeley Unified School District was one of the earliest to do away with pesticides for good. And Albany Unified School District recently changed from spraying pesticides to an informal IPM program, thanks in large part to the efforts of a group of parents concerned about spraying on school grounds. Dorothea Dorenz, a member of the Albany Coalition for Environmental Health, says that the outcry began when children started getting ill after pesticide applications. "Two years ago, some of our students were running on Cougar Field, and they got sick because the district was spraying Roundup," Dorenz recalls. "The school district immediately stopped using it." The Albany coalition's latest fight is over the UC-owned Gill Tract, a plot of land used for research purposes that sits right next to Ocean View Elementary School. Although the university practices IPM with regard to pest management, it still resorts to sprays of herbicides like Roundup for maintaining its grounds, including the Gill Tract. The coalition took its complaints to UC and the Albany school board; the board passed a resolution against the use of Roundup, and Superintendent Gary Mills says he expects a letter from UC regarding its policy on spraying herbicides soon.

And in Oakland, a three-year struggle to cap pesticide-use in the Oakland Unified School District could come to a close this month. Mark Rendón, a teacher at Franklin Year-Round Elementary School, first noticed a problem in 1998, when he had difficulty getting information from the district regarding which pesticides it used on its campuses, and when. That spurred him to push for adoption of an IPM program. He helped to form a coalition of parents, teachers, and environmentalists, dubbed the Coalition for a Healthy Oakland School Environment (CHOSE), last year. Catherine Porter of the Women's Cancer Resource Center is also a member of CHOSE. "The Oakland school district is responsive," she says, "but they continue to use pesticides."

A recent state bill may help environmentalists and parent activists in their efforts to get districts to adopt IPMs. The Healthy Schools Act of 2000 requires school districts to mail home notices of their pesticide policies once every school year or, to parents who specifically request it, every time they spray. Also, they must post notices at the spray sites, and keep records of all pesticide sprayings for four years. The law further requires that the California Department of Pesticide Regulation promote IPMs in schools. Although the law stops short of requiring schools to have IPM programs, Slater believes it's an important first step. "As parents become more knowledgeable about this sort of thing, they're not going to allow potentially risky applications of material [on school grounds]," he says. "The main pressure on districts will be if they use sprays and announce it and then parents keep kids out of school. Then the districts would lose money. I think that can be a real driver for districts right there."

"It's a very first step," Rendón says of the act. "It is important that at least we're saying now that parents and the public have the right to know when pesticides are being applied that could harm their children, but it's a long way from saying we are not going to use any pesticides."

The Oakland School Board's Business and Finance Committee discussed the issue this week and recommended adoption to the school board, which will hear it this Wednesday. Rendón is glad that the matter will come before the school board before the school year ends, so that over the summer an IPM committee can implement the program before the new school year. And although the draft of the IPM plan that is being circulated now doesn't include a complete ban on pesticides, it requires the district to use the least toxic brand around.

Slater is now retired, and he spends his time speaking to groups and organizations that are interested in ending pesticide use. He recently addressed the Richmond Neighborhood Coordinating Council, which voted to draft a letter to the West Contra Costa Unified School District urging the district to take a close look at implementing an IPM program there. And although he says he's not a crusader for the IPM cause, he's definitely a disciple. "IPM is not a better Raid," he says. "Some people think that IPM is posting that they are going to use sprays, and then posting that they did use sprays. To me, IPM is getting rid of sprays." But he has no doubt that once school districts and other institutions see the value of using IPM, especially the cost-effectiveness of it, they will see the light and change their spraying ways. "It hasn't become a religion yet," Slater notes, "but the commandments are getting put together."


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