Studies have indicated that children are more susceptible to pesticide poisoning than adults. Therefore, there is increased awareness and concern about the potential exposure of pesticides to children while at school or other public areas.
Today, more than ever, schools are under tight scrutiny when it comes to the use or application of any pesticide product. Parental notification, posting prior to and following each pesticide application, scheduling treatments and then having a committee review of every pesticide product, where it is applied, when it will be applied and justification for its use, are just a few of the considerations when it comes to responding to insects, spiders, rodents or other pest problems.
However, the question yet to be answered is whether or not schools can eliminate the use of pesticides in total or at least mandate that no product be used until a pest problem has been reported and still protect the health and welfare of the children from the potential health hazards created by pests.
To answer some of these questions a research project was designed and implemented in Texas and Louisiana to demonstrate and evaluate the use of integrated pest management (IPM) treatment options in public schools and determine what impact the selection and/or limitation of products used could have on the ability to respond to or control a pest problem. The two states worked in cooperation and adopted the same IPM procedures and principles, thereby increasing the validity of the project’s outcome. Nine schools were selected at random from each state. The schools were distributed among different geographic areas and represented various socioeconomic conditions that exist among different school systems.
Three IPM strategies were evaluated: 1) exclusion, trapping and sanitation (no chemical/pesticide use allowed); 2) exclusion, trapping, and sanitation in conjunction with rodent and/or insecticide baits; and 3) use of all control options specified in treatments 1 and 2, with the addition of pesticide sprays and dusts labeled for use in public schools.
The schools were divided into three geographic regions of the state with three schools per region. One school from each region was then randomly selected and an IPM treatment plan assigned to that school. This enabled each state to have various IPM strategies tested in each region and under different socioeconomic conditions.
The agencies responsible for managing the project were the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry and the Texas Structural Pest Control Board. Each agency was responsible for monitoring pest conditions within the schools, training of personnel and oversight of any and all pest control measures applied. Established pest thresholds were applied uniformly to all schools to ensure that justification of any pest treatment option was verifiable and justified. As a standard monitoring device, glueboards were used throughout each school and placed in positions specified in the project guidelines. The basic goals of the project were: a.) reduce any potential human health hazard and to protect against significant threat to public safety; b.) prevent loss of, or damage to, schools, structures, or property; c.) prevent pests from spreading into the community beyond the school site; and d) enhance the quality of life for students, staff and members of the community.
Each school was thoroughly inspected prior to the initiation of the project. Problems or areas needing repairs were recorded and reports filed with each school. Some of the problems identified were cracked or missing glass in windows, caulking that was cracked or missing around windows and doors, air-conditioning units improperly sealed, decayed wood on eaves, cracked or missing mortar on bricks, rusted out gutters and missing screens on ventilated areas. Photographs were taken at the time of inspection, at initiation and during the duration of the project. Finally, to ensure the data and information obtained reflected normal school conditions the study was conducted during a six-month period while the schools were in session (January through June 2001).
A few of the schools had existing contracts with pest control companies while others used custodial personnel or called on pest management professionals only after a problem had occurred. Teachers, students and other personnel were asked to support the project by reporting all pest problems to the IPM coordinator.
In addition, monitoring stations were placed in classrooms, storerooms, kitchens, and other key areas and checked approximately every 30 days. Care was taken to place monitors in areas where children could not locate them or, when placed in a classroom, used only temporarily. Teachers and staff were informed as to where the monitors were located and when they would be inspected. Records of all pest activity detected by the monitors were given to the IPM coordinator to evaluate the effectiveness of the IPM strategy used at that school.
RESULTS AND DISCUSSION. School schedules, level of cooperation, availability of pest control personnel, use of schools by community groups, weather, and a priority of school repair and sanitation needs significantly impacted the project. However, these factors represent the real-world conditions found in public schools and provide a true and fair evaluation of the IPM treatment plans used here.
IPM TREATMENT PLAN 1. The schools receiving IPM treatment plan 1, sanitation and exclusion had limited, short-term control of the pests. The pest situations were varied and included insect, bird and rodent pest situations. The use of sanitation and exclusion was not considered a sustainable long-term control option due to the time, personnel and resources required to maintain pests below action thresholds.
Without the selective and prescriptive use of chemical control agents within and around the schools there was nothing to prevent or deter a pest(s) from entering the building, nor the recruitment of additional pests to that site (i.e., ants). The restriction on the use of bait products and other chemical control measures severely limited the effectiveness of this treatment option. Before the conclusion of the study all of the schools using plan 1 were switched to plan 3 due to increasing pest problems.
IPM TREATMENT PLAN 2. Schools receiving IPM treatment plan 2 were limited to sanitation, exclusion and the limited use of bait (e.g., insect, rodent) products. The IPM treatment plan failed to maintain pest levels below the established threshold limits in all schools.
As with the other schools in this project the pest problems varied from location to location. The limited use of bait products, in addition to sanitation and exclusion, did not significantly increase the overall effectiveness of the program. Before the conclusion of the study all of the schools were switched to IPM treatment plan 3. As seen in the schools initially treated using IPM treatment option 1 the personnel, time and resources to maintain the schools in a reasonably pest free environment were greater than normal school budgets would allow. Even when treated by a professional pest management professional, the limits placed on their control options precluded them from adequately addressing the pest problems encountered.
IPM TREATMENT PLAN 3. The schools treated with IPM treatment plan 3 utilized sanitation, exclusion, bait application and the limited and prescriptive use of pesticide and rodenticide products. The use and selection of the control product was based on the information gained from the site inspections and the glue board monitoring. This enabled personnel to target applications and control tactics towards each pest encountered.
By combining a strong offensive control program (perimeter pest control application) with an equally strong and defensive interior pest control program, grounded in the use of sanitation and exclusion as a first step, pest problems were easily managed. If at any time a pest population increased above the accepted threshold level a quick and appropriate response was applied. By the end of this project all schools were using IPM treatment plan 3 to manage pest problems.
The goal of any integrated pest management program within a public school system is to control pest infestations while ensuring the protection of the health and welfare of the children and personnel at those schools. Based on the results from the research we conducted, there is conclusive evidence that undue limitations on the judicious use of pesticides within our public school systems ultimately places at risk the health and welfare of the children, staff and structures from pest problems such as venomous arthropods, disease vectors, wood-destroying organisms, and biting or stinging pests.
Dr. James Cink is a product development manager for Whitmire Micro-Gen. John McPherson is a program coordinator for the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry. Murray Walton and Lita Kiplin are with the Texas Structural Pest Control Board.
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National Research Council. 1993. Committee on Pesticides in the Diets of Children, 1993. Pesticides in the Diets of Infants and Children. National Academy Press, Washington D.C. 386 pp.
Stauffer, S., Ferrentino, C. Koplinka-Loehr and K. Sharpe. 1998. IPM Workbook for New York State Schools. Cornell Coop. Ext. Community IPM Program. n.p.
Texas Education Agency. 2001. www.tea.state.tx.us
Texas Structural Pest Control Board, Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, CTN Educational Services, and Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment. 2000. School IPM Demonstration Project. TX SPCB 27 pp.
University of Florida. 2001. School IPM – Technical Information. www.ifas.ufl.edu/~schoolipm/tech.
U.S. General Accounting Office. 1999. Use. Effects and Alternatives to Pesticides in Schools. GAO/RCED-00-17. 18 pp.
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