By Ella Tyler
“Texas has some of the most progressive laws in the country about pesticides in schools, but not many parents know about these laws,” laments Charlotte Wells, executive director of Texans for Alternatives to Pesticides. The law requires that public schools use the least toxic methods available to control pests, rodents, insects, and weeds, she says.
Texas also requires school districts to adopt an integrated pest management program and designate an IPM coordinator, and to post a notice about upcoming indoor pesticide treatments 48 hours before the treatment. State law also prohibits the application of pesticides if students are expected to be present within 12 hours after the treatment. Only applicators having state licenses may apply pesticides in schools. According to the organization Beyond Pesticides, just four other states have laws that impose use restrictions and mandate IPM, prior notice, and posting.
These laws also allow parents to ask the school to provide written notification before pesticides are applied, Wells says. “The request must be made at the beginning of the school year.”
The 1991 law has required IPM in schools since 1995, according to Wells. “The catalyst for the law was a school in Chillicothe, Texas, that had to close for four weeks in 1981 because students got sick from lindane and toxaphene sprayed for a head lice infestation, she says. These chemicals were not approved for this use and were applied by unlicensed persons.
Although IPM is required for outdoor use of pesticides, as well as indoor use, outdoor use does not require advance notice. “I think parents would be shocked if they know how much herbicide is used in areas that children play in,” Wells says. “Children bring the chemical inside on their shoes, and it stays in carpets since it doesn’t bio-degrade without sunlight.” Aside from health risks, herbicides are a major pollutant in bayous and bays.
“We need to remember that pesticides kill living organisms,” Wells says. “There’s a children’s song that goes,
Don’t burn down the farm
To get rid of the ants.
In your quest to kill a pest
Don´t poison your own nest.
I think that sums it up,” she says.
The State of Texas gives IPM Star Awards each year to school districts. The competition encourages pride in integrated pest management programs, and provides cash awards of $1,000 and $500 to schools with outstanding programs. The Katy ISD won in 2003. For more about pesticides, see TAP’s website or the school IPM website.