Pesticides and schools

Q: Should pesticides be applied to school grounds?

John Boyd, grounds coordinator, Leavenworth (Kan.) Public School District

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Pesticides should not be applied to school grounds. Some reasons are student safety, dollar and man-hour savings and lessons being taught on the school grounds. Student safety should always be a No. 1 priority. Consider second-graders' attention span when the teacher tells them to stay out of the grass after you sprayed for grubs. Would you be comfortable telling Tommy's mom that he will be just fine after a bath because he forgot and rolled around in the wet grass?

Shrinking budgets and the ever-rising cost of labor strains managers to the limits. Chemical applications to school grounds is not a high priority. The savings from the deletion of chemical applications could allow you to accomplish another project. Every district has their showplace site, but these areas fall into a different category and generally receive greater care. But the playground is a different story.

School grounds are an instructional area. Plants and insects are not considered unsightly to a 7-year-old. Consider the amount of time you spent picking the "pretty" yellow flowers or blowing the puffy white seeds of a dandelion into a playmate's face, or the hours spent discovering a four-leaf clover. I remember, as a child, chasing the bugs that I kicked up in the grass. I know today that I was playing among a sod webworm infestation, but does a 6-year-old care?

I think the use of pesticides on school grounds should be a very important question for all grounds managers to consider. As the old saying goes, "Grass doesn't grow on a playground."

Allen James, executive director, RISE (Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment)

Educators and parents demand that our schools be as pest-free and clean as possible. And well they should. Roaches, rats and other pests can bring disease and filth into classrooms, cafeterias and onto playgrounds. Noxious weeds provide cover for such vermin, and their growth poses problems for both adults and children who suffer allergies.

Controlling such pests presents the challenge of using effective controls in ways that are safe for both children and educators. That is why RISE and its members support Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategies. That is why we teamed up with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to distribute thousands of EPA-supported IPM materials to public-school systems when no government funds were available.

IPM requires an understanding of a school's problems and conditions. No "one-size-fits-all" program exists. Turf managers identify pests and pest activity or consider threats. The trained professional evaluates control options based on public health and safety, level of infestation, environmental impact, effectiveness and economics. Control choices include biological, chemical, cultural, manual or mechanical means.

IPM can and does provide for the judicious use of pesticides, and often this is the only effective control in areas where students learn and educators teach. Most states that have embraced such programs have training and certification programs for school-employed applicators, as well as for commercial -pest-control personnel.

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