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New Report Says Children Across Maine at Risk from Toxic Pesticide Spraying

More than Half of Maine Public Schools Surveyed Use Pesticides

Read the full report here.

(Scarborough) It has been over 10 years since the State of Maine has issued a comprehensive survey of pesticide use on schools in Maine. Today, the public health and environmental non-profit, Toxics Action Center, released a new report “A Call for Safer School Grounds: A Survey of Pesticide Use on K-12 Public School Grounds in Maine,” that surveyed public schools across the state on their pesticide use and pushes for policy to curb spraying.   

“Maine children are at risk from pesticide spraying in schools,” said Tracie Konopinski, Community Organizer with Toxics Action Center, “Just this month, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) published a report calling for reduced pesticide exposure for children. There are numerous studies cited within the AAP’s report that link chronic pesticide exposure to pediatric cancers and neurobehavioral and cognitive deficits like autism, attention disorders, and hyperactivity. Our report shows that despite policies aimed at reducing pesticide spraying, more than half of K-12 public schools polled in our report still have their finger on the pesticide trigger.”

The Toxics Action Center report is based on a survey of 209 Maine public schools and shows that 51% of schools surveyed spray pesticides, including Weed and Feed and Roundup.  The chemicals in these pesticides have been linked to human health impacts, including kidney disease and links to non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The report also states that the state’s Integrated Pest Management Policy (IPM) is inadequate at regulating pesticide application and informing the public on pesticide practices. Although IPM policies and records of pesticide applications are required to be kept by schools under Maine law, 32% of schools surveyed reported that they do not keep records. IPM records were received from 9% of schools surveyed.    

In Scarborough, the town has adopted their own Organic Pest Management Policy, surpassing what is required by the state, and restricts the use of chemical pesticides on town-owned land, including sports fields. Dave Malevsky, of Go Green Organics, began servicing the town’s land and playing fields in May.

Mary Nelson, Representative from Falmouth, stated, “We need strong action that puts us on a faster track to reducing human exposure to pesticides. I call on my colleagues in the Maine House and Senate to follow the lead of communities like Scarborough and limit the use of pesticides at schools and day care centers in order to protect children’s health and promote safe schools.”

More than 100 teachers, school administrators and coaches have signed on to support Toxics Action Center’s Safe School Grounds Campaign, pledging support for a statewide policy to ban pesticide spraying in Maine public school grounds.  

Terri Eddy, who works at Scarborough High School, joined the other speakers at the event. “This is an education issue. Schools should be safe and healthy environments where children can learn and grow,” said Eddy, “Children face enough challenges in the classroom to have to face chemicals toying with their health and behavior.”

The full report, available at www.toxicsaction.org gives the following recommendations:

1)      Keep our Children Safe. The Maine state legislature should ban the use of pesticides on public school grounds. There is considerable scientific evidence that the human brain is not fully formed until the age of 12, and childhood exposure to some of the most common pesticides on the market may greatly impact the development of the central nervous system.

2)      The Maine State Legislature should ban the use of pesticides for solely aesthetic reasons.  Using pesticides for aesthetic reasons is an unnecessary risk to children’s health. Athletic fields and playgrounds are commonly treated for aesthetic reasons, leaving students at the greatest risk of exposure.

3)      The Maine State Legislature and the Maine Department of Education should ban the use of broad-based pesticides such as Weed and Feed and Roundup on public school grounds. Broad-based pesticides, which are designed to kill a number of unwanted weeds and pests, are among the most harmful types of pesticides.  Weed and Feed and Roundup are made from glyphosate and 2,4-D, two of the most toxic chemicals used in any pesticides. Our survey results show Weed and Feed and Roundup to be the two most commonly used pesticides on school grounds in Maine.

4)      Schools must prepare more specific Integrated Pest Management (IPM) policies to alert parents about pesticide applications when necessary.  Because pesticides are toxic, IPM policies and records need to be available online so that parents can see what is being applied at their children’s schools and take proper precautions.

5)      The Maine Department of Education should promote organic turf management practices. Schools that manage their grounds exclusively through organic lawn care are very rare. Only 9 schools reported the use of organics. Despite this, there is a wide body of evidence demonstrating that organic lawn maintenance can save money and protect children’s health.

The report is available at www.toxicsaction.org.

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Toxics Action Center is a New England-wide environmental and public health organization that works side by side with residents to clean up and prevent toxic threats in their communities.