Student and staff exposure to pesticides applied at schools has been well documented. Anyone may experience illness after exposure to pesticides. However, children are uniquely susceptible because of their behavior, physiological development, and body size. The best way for schools to prevent exposure and illness is to use an integrated pest management approach when controlling pests and to understand the state's laws for pesticide use.
Integrated Pest Management
Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is the most effective way to manage pests both in the classrooms and on the playgrounds. When followed carefully, IPM can result in the least toxic pest control with the least possible effect to children. Schools share pest problems common to homes, but children and food on a grand scale set schools apart and represent unique challenges to pest control. Learn more by visiting WSU School IPM. This is a comprehensive website developed by the Urban Pesticide Education Strategy Team, of which Department of Health is a member. It provides IPM strategies, tools, and training resources tailored for schools.
It's recommended that schools adopt IPM policies and develop plans for implementation. For information about successful Washington school programs, see WSU School IPM-Adopting Models for School IPM.
State Laws on Pest and Pesticides
WAC 246-366-050 School Buildings
The premises and all buildings shall be free of insects and rodents of public health significance and conditions which attract, provide harborage and promote propagation of vermin.
All poisonous compounds shall be easily identified, used with extreme caution and stored in such a manner as to prevent unauthorized use or possible contamination of food and drink.
RCW 17.21.415 Pesticide Application and Schools
Schools and daycares in Washington are required to have a written pest control policy, notify interested parents before pesticides are used indoors or outdoors, post the notification in a prominent place in the school's main office, and post all areas treated with a pesticide. This law is intended to help reduce or eliminate the possibility of student or staff exposure to pesticides.
Resources to help comply with the law include:
- Compliance Guide for the use of Pesticides at Public School (K-12) and Licensed Day-Care Centers (PDF)
- Pesticide Notification and Records Inspection Check List (PDF)
Agricultural Pesticide Drift
Illnesses at schools from exposure to pesticide drift (drifting spray and dust from pesticide applications) from neighboring farmlands have also occurred. There are more than 100 public schools in Washington located within 200 feet of agricultural operations and more than 200 within one-quarter mile. The proximity of schools and agricultural operations presents a risk of unintended exposure of students and staff to pesticides through drift.
To prevent illness, follow WSU School IPM-Guidelines for Schools Next to Agricultural Operations on how to communicate with agriculturalists about practices to reduce the risk of pesticide drift and on what emergency procedures to take if a drift occurs.
What to do if a Pesticide Drift Occurs
- If pesticides are suspected to have drifted onto the school site, immediately close the buildings.
- Turn off school ventilation system and close windows.
- Keep students and staff inside.
- Stop the pesticide application and identify the chemicals involved.
- If possible, contact the applicator to stop the application.
- Pesticide applicators are legally required to provide product information upon request. Ask for the product name and EPA Registration Numbers for all pesticides in the application.
- If necessary, call 9-1-1 and ask for assistance in stopping the pesticide application. Ask the local fire department HAZMAT team for advice on hazard assessment and if evacuation is necessary.
- Address health concerns.
If a student or staff experiences symptoms possibly related to pesticide exposure, seek health care. Give the healthcare provider all information you gathered about the pesticides involved. Additional contacts for health and safety information include:
- Local health department Phone: ________________
- Washington State Department of Health, Pesticide Program: 360-236-3528 (Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m.)
- Washington Poison Center: 1-800-222-1222 (24 hrs/day, 7 days/week)
- Report immediately to the Washington State Department of Agriculture: 1-877-301-4555. The agency enforces regulations related to pesticides and can assist in identifying the pesticides applied and the agriculturalist.
- Notify parents and other users of the school site about the drift incident. The Washington State Department of Health, Pesticide Program: 360-236-3528 can help answer concerns parents may have about their child's health.
- Consult and prepare for post event clean up, depending on the pesticides involved.
Post Drift Event Clean-up and Safety Procedures
The actual response will depend on the pesticides involved. For example, the actions taken on an oil-base insecticide may differ significantly from those taken when a powder or granulated substance mixed with water is used. It's important to identify the pesticides for the proper response. General recommended clean-up procedures:
- Wash down playground equipment, outdoor tables, railings, pillars, doors and drinking fountains with soap and water followed by a thorough rinsing. Under certain situations, stream and/or high-pressure washer will be more effective.
- Keep run-off from the washing process from contaminating playgrounds or other areas of the school grounds including surface water.
- Evaluate potentially contaminated material on the grounds (leafy debris, play sand, bark chips) for possible cleaning or removal.
- Irrigate the grounds.
- Consult with the Washington State Department of Agriculture, if school gardens are suspected to be contaminated.
- After the outside air has cleared, open up the buildings to the fullest extent possible and run the ventilation system to thoroughly air out the buildings.
- Clean any indoor contaminated surfaces with soap and water.
- Monitor classroom animal for health symptoms.
- Replace all air filters in the ventilation system.
- Search Washington Tracking Network to see how many people are affected by pesticide drift from agricultural applications over a period of time and read about reports of illness caused by exposure to pesticides.
- Acute Illnesses Associated with Pesticide Exposure at Schools, JAMA 2005
- IPM in Schools, EPA
Content Source: Pesticide Program