PesticidesUse, Effects, and Alternatives to Pesticides in Schools Gao ID: RCED-00-17 November 29, 1999
Federal law regulates the use of pesticides in the United States, but there are no specific provisions dealing with the use of pesticides in the nation's schools. Pesticides can cause a range of harmful effects in people--from cancer to lung damage to problems with the nervous system-- and children are at higher risk from pesticide exposure than are adults because, among other things, they play on floors and lawns where pesticides are commonly applied. Also, children have more frequent hand-to-mouth contact. Comprehensive nationwide information on the amount of pesticides applied in the nation's 110,000 public schools is unavailable. Data on short- and long-term illnesses linked to pesticide exposure, whether in schools or other settings, is limited. The Environmental Protection Agency and several states have sought to reduce the use of pesticides in schools by using alternative pest management strategies, including structural repairs to stop pests from getting into a building, improving sanitation, and using baits and traps. If pesticides are needed, this "integrated pest management approach" suggests that the least-toxic chemicals be used. Since the early 1990s, EPA has been encouraging schools to adopt this approach, including providing financial support to some state and school districts and producing manuals and education kits. Several states are also taking steps to implement or promote integrated pest management in schools.
GAO noted that: (1) the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act regulates the use of pesticides in the United States, but there are no specific provisions in the law about the use of pesticides in schools; (2) EPA will register a pesticide, thereby permitting its sale and distribution, if it determines that the pesticide will not generally cause unreasonable adverse effects on human health or the environment; (3) registration decisions are based in part on studies of the pesticides' effects and toxicity, some of which are designed to assess the risks to infants and children; (4) the law requires that regardless of where they are used, pesticides be used only as directed by their labels; (5) over 3,000 pesticide labels include provisions applicable to how, when, and where the pesticides can be used in schools, but these provisions do not generally afford any greater or lesser protection for school children than other groups; (6) comprehensive nationwide information on the amount of pesticides used in the nation's 110,000 public schools is not available; (7) the federal government has not collected such data, and only one state, Louisiana, requires its school districts to specifically report the amount of pesticides used; (8) one other state, New York, requires commercial applicators to report information on the amount of pesticides they used and the locations where they used it; (9) neither of these states has yet to analyze the data collected; (10) six other states require commercial applicators to report the amounts of pesticides they use, but the reported information does not identify where the pesticides were used; (11) data on short- and long-term illnesses linked to pesticide exposure are limited; (12) information from the American Association of Poison Control Centers shows that from 1993 through 1996, about 2,300 pesticide-related exposures involving individuals at schools were reported; (13) however, there are questions about the completeness and reliability of these data because some cases are not reported and outcomes are not known for over 40 percent of reported cases; (14) EPA and a number of states have taken initiatives to reduce the use of pesticides in schools by employing alternative pest management strategies; (15) EPA has been active in encouraging schools to adopt integrated pest management since the early 1990s; and (16) six states have enacted laws mandating integrated pest management in their schools.