Friday, March 11, 2011

Would eliminating Texas' public school IPM requirements affect student health?

New Texas school IPM coordinators get a
lesson in conducting IPM inspections at
East-Central ISD, in San Antonio this week.
On Tuesday the Texas Senate Education Committee held hearings on a bill that relates to school IPM.  Senate Bill 3 (formerly SB 468) is titled "flexibility of the board of trustees of a school district in the management and operation of public schools in the district" deals with several issues relating to efforts to make Texas legislation less costly to school districts.  At the end of the day long hearing (which included testimony from five witnesses who opposed the repeal of school IPM rules and no one specifically in favor), Senator Van de Putte (D- San Antonio) asked Janet Hurley, school IPM program specialist, and I whether in our opinion, repeal of the school IPM legislation would be harmful to childrens' health.

While this is a complex answer to address completely, we both had little choice but to answer yes.  Let me explain why.

Texas' requirement for schools to follow IPM principles and to encourage the use of less toxic pesticides has changed the way pest control is done.  We know, for example, that indoor school environments receive fewer pesticide spray applications today, 16 years after implementation of the IPM law.  Pesticide sprays inevitably deposit residues in places where they can be in contact with children.  One could argue that there is little evidence that proper spray applications pose any significant threat to children's health; but the facts remain that children are more likely to be exposed to potentially harmful spray deposits when they are used more frequently. Most of us would agree that keeping pesticides away from kids is a good thing. This is one of the reasons that the U.S. EPA has pushed schools to consider using IPM for almost 20 years.

A second reason for linking IPM to student health is that repeated research shows that IPM is the most effective way to manage pests.  This has been shown for cockroach control in schools, bed bug control in public housing, and numerous other sites

Why is pest control so important? Consider rodents.  Mice and rats spread human pathogens via feces and urine, invisible deposits of which can be found on food preparation surfaces, floors and desks of infested schools.  This is the situation we saw recently in a south Texas school district that obviously did not have a strong IPM program. I can tell you from personal observation that cockroaches are present in many Texas schools (even with IPM, we're not perfect).  Cockroaches are implicated not only in transmission of disease organisms like Salmonella, but also in allergen production. In some areas, cockroach allergies are just as frequent in human populations at house dust mite, cat, and pollen allergies.  These allergens are frequently encountered in school dust samples (Eggleston PA, Arruda LK. 2001. Ecology and elimination of cockroaches and allergens in the home. J Allergy Clin Immunol 107:S422-S429).  Similarly, house flies, fire ants, bats and other pests are among pests targeted effectively by IPM. Failure to control pests in schools is a failure to provide a safe learning environment for our children. 

If you are willing to accept these claims on the part of IPM, the key remaining question is whether IPM practice is likely to decline in the absence of a state requirement.  If the past history of pest control in Texas is any guide, the answer is not highly encouraging. Prior to 1995, when school IPM legislation went into effect, there were a few schools with good IPM programs, but most districts relied on scheduled spray visits.  One study showed that average satisfaction with pest control programs at that time was low (Damon Shodrock MS thesis, 1994).  According to our research, Texas school districts today are 75% more likely to be satisfied with their pest control program compared to 1993, before the law went into effect. We also found that 75% of school IPM coordinators believe that the Texas IPM requirements have resulted in more effective pest management in their districts.

I don't believe the change we've seen in Texas is completely the result of the pest control industry getting better over time.  Although there are few statewide surveys, and evidence is anecdotal at best, I think it's safe to say that non-regulated states have not made as much progress in the past 20 years as Texas. Colleagues from other states jealously note that it is difficult to raise interest in IPM among school administrators who are not required by some mandate to follow IPM standards.  And if you ask any maintenance professionals familiar with school IPM programs, having the support of school administration is key to IPM success in schools.

We were very appreciative of the opportunity to share these statistics with the Education Committee this week and hope that the Education committee and our legislature will make the decision best for the school children of Texas. Also, if you haven't seen it, a Texas Tribune article reported this week on the issue with voices both for and against the legislation. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

SB 1252, which be heard in Senate Finance at 10 am on 3/28/11 does the same thing, repeal the IPM program for schools. Here's a link: