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In recent years, policymakers have been confronted with claims that children face dire public health risks associated with the use of pesticide products in schools. Accordingly, on several occasions Congress has considered regulating such uses, and many states have passed laws governing pesticide use. Although these laws may be well intended, they could actual create more serious health hazards for children associated with increased risks from pests.
By unanimous consent, the Senate passed legislation that would have regulated the use of pesticides in schools as an amendment to the 2001 “No Child Left Behind” education bill. The legislation would have changed the federal pesticide law to require schools to notify parents of pesticide use three times a year and allow them to be placed on a registry for additional notification. The House removed the language from the bill. Although the issue has not emerged recently in Congress, more than 20 states have “pesticide in schools” notification bills, and pressure continues to mount for federal action. In the Northeast, nearly all states have some form of notification. The Massachusetts law is one of the more extensive. It requires schools and day care facilities to develop Integrated Pest Management Plans, with the goal of reducing pesticide use. It also regulates what pesticides can be used and requires notification of parents and employees.
These laws present numerous problems for schools. Perhaps most important, these laws create incentives for schools to halt pesticide use rather than deal with red tape and bad public relations. Unfortunately, laws that undermine responsible use of pesticides can increase risks of diseases and other health problems posed by pests. In addition, such laws prevent urgent responses to problems that demand such responses. For example, many require schools to wait 48 to 72 hours after a notification before controlling a pest problem. But if a school has a problem with rats, wasps, or other vectors of disease, the goals of public health and safety often demand a rapid response. In addition, these laws have proven expensive for schools that already face tight budgets. According to testimony offered by the National School Boards Association, such laws would cost one Virginia school district $350,000 to $400,000 a year.