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Sep 012009

By Melissa Segrest
Green Right Now

Your kids may be working on their ABCs, but is their school working on its IPM?

That’s Integrated Pest Management, an increasingly requested – or required – method of fighting pests without using potentially harmful pesticides. (Or using minimal pesticides.)

For decades, schools liberally applied toxic pesticides on their grounds and in their classrooms to beat back bugs and rodents. Exterminators or the school janitor might have sprayed DDT, diazinon or chlordane. If things got bad enough, teachers would (and still could) take matters into their own hands with a can of Raid.

But study after study has made it painfully clear that children are especially sensitive to pesticide exposure. All of their touching, crawling and putting little fingers into mouths makes a bad situation worse. Neurotoxins in pesticides can attack immune systems, organs, brains and nervous systems. Experts point to pesticides’ links to cancer, birth defects or neurological problems.

Letting the bugs or rodents run rampant isn’t an option. Pests also threaten kids’ health.  German cockroach feces have been linked to asthma in children, as has pesticide residue.

So, what is IPM? Common sense, basically. It means taking practical, relatively simple steps to pest control before thinking about hauling out the heavy pesticides.

With an IPM program, there will be scrutiny of all parts of the school, indoors and out. Part of the plan involves looking for and sealing cracks, crevices or gaps where pests can enter or hide.

Those involved in the IPM plan will search for pests’ food sources, such as students’ or staff’s dirty dishes or utensils. Cleaning garbage cans and dumpsters on a regular basis is another element. Checking for sources of water is another.

Planting landscape elements that are pest-resistant and suggestions of care for grass and athletic fields is part of the program.

Only after exhausting all the “natural” steps does pesticide become an option. IPM schools are urges to use pesticides that have minimal impact on people. Limited,  targeted use – in areas where students or staff aren’t likely to put their hands —  is the goal. Biopesticides can stop roaches from reproducing without creating hazardous conditions. Bait traps, removing weeds and moving plants away from buildings can help. Boric acid, a relatively harmless compound, can be used in gel form to deter ants.

An added bonus: Integrated Pest Management is probably going to cost less than all that hazardous spraying.

There are more than 53 million kids and six million adults in more than 120,000 public and private schools today, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). If it’s such a no-brainer, why hasn’t every state and school district signed on with IPM plans?