Monday, January 4, 2010

Be careful what you wish for

Many of you know that for more than 15 years many committed people in our state have worked very hard to bring meaningful change to the way we conduct pest control programs in Texas public schools. In 1990 the Texas legislature passed a school integrated pest management (IPM) law requiring all schools to practice IPM by allowing pesticides to be applied only by certified applicators, appointing a trained IPM coordinators in each school district to oversee pest control, and set up a system for encouraging the use of less-hazardous pesticides. Since then, the law has succeeded, in my opinion, through diligent attention to careful and wise rule-making (aided by lots of public and professional input), daily enforcement activity by our structural pest control regulatory agency and lots (and lots) of training.

Today Texas has one of the best records in the country at getting schools to change the way they do pest control. The result has been not only reducing reliance on scheduled pesticide applications and encouraging the use of safer pesticides in schools, but also better pest control. All of these things work together to make schools safer, more pleasant places to work and study.

The process of change has been painful at times, and there have been mistakes made along the way, but it has been satisfying watching people pull together in the spirit of wanting to do the right thing for kids and schools. Part of the satisfaction many of us feel about school IPM in Texas is that we made it work, it is our program, and it works for us in our state with all its glorious fire ants, giant waterbugs and other unique pest challenges.

Meanwhile, other states around the country have struggled to bring an IPM approach to public school programs with varying levels of success. Progress has been slow enough that some have called for a national school IPM program. I agree that some form of federal legislation could be useful in encouraging school IPM implementation--after all state legislation has been the driving force for change in Texas. Such legislation, if passed, should require schools to follow IPM principles, establish training and certification criteria for those who conduct pest control and apply pesticides on school facilities, and let the states figure out the rest.

But that's not what H.R. 4159 the School Environmental Protection Act (SEPA) of 2009, introduced by U.S. Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ) looks like at all. This bill provides an object lesson in the old warning to be careful what you wish for. The bill is a modified version of bills that have been repeatedly introduced over the past several congresses, and which have never made it out of committee... for good reason. Among other things, the bill bypasses the regulatory label approval process used today by the U.S. EPA. It will essentially eliminate the right of schools to use most (I would guess more than 95% of) registered pesticides that are currently in use. It requires schools to notify parents every time a pesticide is used that is not on the (highly restrictive) list of "least toxic pesticides". It will essentially eliminate the ability of schools to use herbicides on grounds or sports fields. It (inexplicably) prohibits schools from using synthetic fertilizer, forcing them to use only more expensive organic fertilizers. It will establish a federal advisory committee that has the power to create a list of approved pesticides for all states. And it does all this without authorizing Congress to appropriate money to spend on IPM education or administration of the program, or for states to pay for enforcement of what will be highly unpopular regulations.

In my opinion, the approach taken by this bill will hurt the progress we've made in Texas on school IPM, and will likely set back progress toward IPM implementation in other states as well. In nearly all aspects of its construction, bill H.R. 4159 is more restrictive than Texas's laws and regulations. Supporters of the bill claim that it will not preempt existing state school IPM regulations, but that is only true when federal law is less restrictive than state law. The fact is that no state or school district in the U.S. have school IPM regulations stricter than this bill.

It seems to me that chances for passage of H.R. 4159 are slim, given the cost and burden it will pose on the nation's schools. Nevertheless the persistent return of this legislation year after year suggests that the blanket anti-pesticide advocates (those who oppose nearly any and every pesticide regardless of its usefulness or benefits) are not ready to give up. The shift in the balance of power in Washington, however, means that what has happened over the past several years may not be a faithful guide to what will happen this year. It is important that professionals who understand IPM read this bill and make their opinions known.

By the way, it's never been easier to read and comment on federal legislation. After a simple registration process, you can make comments on this bill at the Open Congress website at . Using this site you can register your support or opposition and even write your legislators about any bill with a click of the button.


Anonymous said...

The only reason IPM looks good in Texas is because there is a lack of enforcement. When parents were unable to locate the IPM Coordinator in Houston ISD, the largest district in Texas, after pesticides were applied by a subcontractor to a school's 'organic vegetable garden' and a known carcinogen was used on a school playing field.... I'd say, Texas is doing less than adequate job of protecting children and staff from dangerous toxins.

Many of these pesticides are known carcinogens and may contribute to learning disabilities. Please place the health of students, teachers and parents above everything. Please do the right thing and support SEPA.

Anonymous said...

Ed Wilson writes about scientists in his book "Creation" (pg. 104):

"Scientists by and large are too modest to be prophets, too easily bored to be philosophers, and too trusting to be politicians. Lacking in street smarts, they are also easily fooled by confidence artists and sleight-of-hand tricksters. Never ask a scientist to test the claims of paranormal phenomena. Ask a professional magician."

Since "day one" our Nation has needed a mandate for IPM in schools. Industry and regulatory agencies have been the "party of NO" regarding every attempt to move a mandate forward for many reasons - good and bad. As a former Extension Entomologist/Educator, current professor of environmental management at a school of public administration and one who has been doing IPM in schools for a few years, I find it disturbing but not surprising that Entomologists/Educators seem not to understand the legislative process and are playing into the hands of those that make a living by opposing verifiable IPM. No doubt that is why RISE has such slick, new websites.

Every journey begins with one step folks. While I do not like first shots at most legislation, I trust in the system to come up with eatable sausage (as the making of all new legislation resembles). As intended, laws reflect the needs of the people ....not their public servants or those that whose intentions are to separate them from their money. At what point are our Educators/Scientists going to demand an answer to the correct question regarding legislation: 'what is right for our kids?'"

Marc L. Lame
Clinical Professor
Indiana University
School of Public and Environmental Affairs

Anonymous said...

The first commenter bases his/her opinion of Texas School IPM on ONE incident. Texas is one of the forefathers of School IPM and while incidents like this are undoubtedly unacceptable, you have to ask yourself - How would this situation have been handled in a state without regulated IPM?

While SEPA may be a step forward for states that do not already require school IPM, such as Arkansas, it is a huge step back for a state like Texas. Saying that Texas is doing a “less than adequate job of protecting children and staff from dangerous toxins” is ignorance at best, clearly written by someone that has not done any research on the subject.

If I read correctly, Mr. Lame thinks that we’re paying too much attention to the political aspect of politics instead of asking the right questions. The reason for school IPM is for safety, so I fail to see how the “right questions” aren’t being asked by the educators. The way I see it, we are asking the right questions, it’s legislation that is failing us. It’s a classic case of ignorance in power.

Anonymous said...

Noel JB

When IPM first arrived in Texas I managed to talk to the board and convince them we wanted the least "Hazardous" material as apposed to the least "Toxic". A shotgun is less "toxic" but I would rather have a pesticide. I have noticed the terminology has change back to "Toxic" but I am no longer that close to the Pest Control Service as it is now called.

The pest infestations we have in one part of the country is not necessarily like the infestations in another part. We have a pest in East Texas and Western Louisiana, and a pesticide labeled for that pest in only Eastern Texas and Western Louisiana. I would not presume to know what's best for other parts of the country without some serious research.

I don't feel there is a single list of pesticides for every situation, I don't think a group of good-ol-boys in Texas should be dictating what a bunch of professionals in New Jersey can or cannot use to control ANYTHING in New Jersey. It would be like you telling my dog to sit. (not much of a chance of you being successful)

You have to look at the potential for harm from the pesticide vs the potential from the pest. Do we outlaw peanut-butter in all schools because we have some children who are allergic?

We take precautions but we try to temper them with reality. If you don't think an infestation can be started from some child's lunch box, or jump out of a purse, or fall from a winter coat I invite you to reality.

I think we should prioritize our safety issues at schools where our children are, of course many people do not agree with me but I think anyone who sells drugs to children is much more hazardous and should be publicly hanged on the school grounds or courthouse square, but that's just me.

My father told me of knowledge he learned at one of the many educational workshops he attended: It is estimated more lives were save with DDT after World War II than were lost to the War.

I can still remember in 1978 Dr Osman, Professor of Entomology at Purdue University, coming into the building very upset at learning the truth about the omission of the scientific facts in the ban of DDT.

I am sure there are opposing opinions and as we all know there are three side to every story, My impression of the truth, your impression of the truth, and of course the truth.

So many thing are like that commercial on High Fructose corn syrup, we all know what we are told but how many of us research for the truth.

Assassin Exterminating & Pest Control said...

I like that the individual States can pick and choose what sections pertain to them. Pest Control is an evolving industry which isn't perfect, but the biggest purchasers of pesticides have and always will be homeowners. Restricted use pesticide application is actually much less than you think. More time and effort should be focused on Walmart, Home Depot and people like that who sell large quantities to people who either don't read the directions or just don't care.