Friday, March 17, 2017

Unlicensed applicators in schools?

It has come to our attention that a bill has recently been introduced in the Texas legislature that would eliminate Texas state requirements for persons applying pesticides in public schools to be a licensed applicator.  HB 3590 was recently introduced by James Frank of Wichita Falls. It's a very short bill, and says merely that "a school district employee is not required to hold a license... to apply at a school building or other school district facility, in a manner consistent with the label, a pesticide that is available for purchase by unlicensed members of the public." [my emphasis]

While I and my fellow extension employees will not take a public position on any state legislation, I think it might be useful to make you aware of the issue.  To be clear about what the bill does, it would allow teachers, custodial staff, coaches, administrative assistants, kitchen employees or any other school district employee to apply insecticides at their own discretion in a school or athletic field.  This would bypass the normal process of pesticide approval and the authority of IPM plans as determined by the IPM Coordinator of the district.

As you think about how you feel about this requirement, here are some things to keep in mind:
  • School IPM requirements have been in place in Texas since 1995, and have become widely accepted and followed by school districts throughout the state.  While some school leaders have expressed concern over the IPM restrictions and licensing costs, our data show that safer practices are being adopted by schools and that overall knowledge of IPM and its implementation has increased significantly.
  • Licensing and training ensures that pesticide applicators are aware of the risks and rules governing pesticide use.  Licensed applicators are also trained in pest identification and how to determine the best and safest means of managing any given pest.  The rationale behind licensing is that untrained and unlicensed applicators attempting to control pests are less likely to be successful, and more likely to apply pesticides unsafely or unnecessarily.
  • Current rules already allow for certain unlicensed school employees to apply pesticides under limited "emergency" circumstances; however some verifiable instruction is required to ensure that the employees understand the pesticide label and how to use a product safely.
  • With the exception of a few restricted use pesticides, nearly any professional pesticide product or active ingredient is currently available for purchase by unlicensed members of the public via feed and seed stores, garden centers, hardware stores or online outlets.  Any of these products, if used without discretion or without following label directions exactly, can be dangerous to the health of children and school employees.
  • As was pointed out in a 1999 Government Accounting Office report on pesticides in schools: "Children are at greater risk from pesticide exposure than most adults because, pound for pound of body weight, children breathe more, eat more, and have more rapid metabolisms than adults, and they also play on the floor and lawn where pesticides are commonly applied. Children have more frequent hand-to-mouth contact as well." Concern about the safety of school children and the need for a safe school environment was the driving force behind passage of the Texas School IPM regulations in 1991.
  • In a recent statewide survey, 88% of school IPM coordinators agreed that the rules and regulations requiring IPM helps their school district provide a safer place for children and staff.