|Pesticides May Be Sickening School Kids|
Huly 26, 2005
Pesticide use in or near U.S. schools sickened more
than 2,500 children and school employees over a five-year period,
and though most illnesses were mild, their numbers have increased, a
nationwide report found.
Sources include chemicals to kill insects and weeds on school
grounds, disinfectants, and farming pesticides that drift over
nearby schools, according to the report by researchers at the
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and their colleagues.
Lead author Dr. Walter Alarcon said one of the largest recent
incidents occurred in May when about 600 students and staff members
were evacuated from an Edinburg, Texas, elementary school after
pesticides sprayed on a cotton field drifted into the school's air
conditioning system. About 30 students and nine staffers developed
mild symptoms including nausea and headaches.
The study, which appears in Wednesday's Journal of the American
Medical Association, covered events from 1998 to 2002 — none as big
as the Texas incident, Alarcon said.
Activists seeking to reduce pesticide use contend many commonly used
pesticides, including some involved in the study incidents, can
increase risks for cancer, birth defects and nerve damage.
"The chronic long-term impacts of pesticide exposures have not been
comprehensively evaluated; therefore, the potential for chronic
health effects from pesticide exposures at schools should not be
dismissed," the authors wrote.
Still, the overall rate of pesticide illnesses in schools is small —
7.4 cases per million children and 27.3 cases per million school
employees, the authors said.
Jay Vroom, president of CropLife America, which represents suppliers
of farming pesticides, said the report is alarmist and that
pesticide use around schools "is well-regulated and can be managed
to a level that does not present an unreasonable health risk."
Allen James, president of RISE, a trade group for makers of
pesticides used in schools, faulted the study for relying on
unverified reports and said the numbers nonetheless suggest that
incidents are "extremely rare."
The authors tallied reports from three pesticide surveillance
systems, including a national database of calls to poison control
centers and found that 2,593 students and school employees developed
pesticide-related illnesses in the five years studied. Only three
illnesses were considered severe.
Most of the illnesses were in children. The number of children
affected each year climbed from 59 to 104 among preschoolers and
from 225 to 333 among children aged 6 to 17.
"I don't think we want to overwhelm people, but the study does
provide evidence that using pesticides at schools is not innocuous
and that there are better ways to use pesticides," said study
co-author Dr. Geoffrey Calvert.
Claire Barnett of the Healthy Schools Network advocacy group said
the total is likely a "deep undercount" because there are about 54
million U.S. schoolchildren and yet no comprehensive national
The authors said the study underscores the need to reduce pesticide
use through pest management programs that typically require schools
to use pesticides as a last resort and to implement advance written
notification when the chemicals are used. The guidelines also often
recommend that spraying in schools or in nearby fields should occur
only when students and staffers are not present.
Laws in 17 states recommend or require schools to have such
programs, according to Jay Feldman, executive director of the Beyond
Pesticides advocacy group.