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CCE IN THE NEWS

Source: NC Advertiser

Could ban on pesticides at schools be lifted?

BY MATT DALEN
ASSISTANT EDITOR

Posted: March 19, 2012
Originally Published: March 18, 2012

A year and a half after a comprehensive ban on pesticides at certain schools went into effect, the state is attempting to deal with how to allow schools to control pests. Recently, the Connecticut General Assembly's Joint Committee on Planning and Development voted 12 to three, with six absences, to support a bill which would allow pesticides as part of an "integrated pest management plan," while the Environmental Committee is considering a rival bill that would undo the ban for non-toxic, organic pesticides.

The first bill, HB-5155, would eliminate the full ban on pesticides, which had applied to any schools with students in eighth grade or lower, and instead allow schools to apply lawn care pesticides on fields and grounds "pursuant to an integrated pest management plan." These plans would be consistent with state pest management plans developed by the state Commissioner of Energy and Environmental Protection.

The bill would also institute fines, ranging from $500 to $2,000, for violating these regulations.

The second bill, HB-5121, would define a microbial pesticide as "a pesticide that consists of a microorganism as the active ingredient" and a biochemical pesticide as a "naturally occurring substance that controls pests by nontoxic mechanisms," and would exempt both from the ban on use at schools. That bill would also allow municipalities to regulate pesticides applied to residential properties, as long as their regulations are more stringent than the state's.

The ban

Although the state ban on pesticides only applies to schools with kindergarten through eighth grade, the Town Council's pesticides committee decided after the ban passed to extend a local ban to the high school's grounds as well, because younger students play on the high school fields.

According to Superintendent of Parks John Howe, this has caused some "degradation of conditions" at the fields, but that his department was attempting to combat invasive weeds and insects using non-pesticide strategies such as aerating the ground and overseeding grass. He said he personally would favor allowing integrated pest management plans, but that the decision would be up to the Town Council.

"My personal decisions are not necessarily what the town should decide," Howe said. "This should be a decision by the townspeople. I'll give my recommendations to maintain the best fields, but other people should make the final decision."

Howe said that the big three pests affecting the school grounds were grubs, which eat grass roots and leaves the ground bare, crab grass, which causes the dirt to clump rather than leaving a smooth field, and broad-leafed weeds like clover, whose flowers attract bees. He said that a grub infestation at the high school track field had forced field hockey games, which require a smooth grassy surface, to be played at Dunning Field.

"Once they eat all the roots, the grass just dries out and you have dirt," he said. "The only way to do it is to resod or reseed."

Howe said that the ban still allowed the use of pesticides in case of public health hazards, allowing his department to use them to eliminate potentially hazardous bee or wasp nests. In that case, he uses a cinnamon oil-based product approved by the health department.

Opposition

HB-5155, which has now been referred to the office of legislative research and office of fiscal analysis, has been opposed by local and regional environmental groups.

"We strongly support the ban that is in place, and ask that you consider supporting it," wrote Heather Lauver and Hicaele Porta of Pesticide-Free New Canaan in last week's Advertiser. "... Why, when they are free to apply pesticides everywhere else, are these interest groups seeking to undo this law in Connecticut?"

Pesticide-Free New Canaan has created a petition to oppose the bill, at org2.democracyinaction.org/o/7106/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=9658.

"Schools throughout Connecticut and the nation have demonstrated that they can eliminate the use of toxic pesticides while successfully and cost-effectively managing pest problems on school grounds," said Louis Burch of Connecticut's Citizens Campaign for the Environment in a press release. "Hundreds of Connecticut landscapers have been trained to manage turf without using toxic pesticides."


Although HB-5155 was passed by the planning and development committee, Representative Matthew Ritter (D-1st), who made the motion to pass the bill out of committee, said that did not necessarily indicate support for the bill.

"It was nothing more than a procedural step to move it out of committee," Ritter told the Advertiser. He said that he wanted both bills to receive a full vetting before one or the other was chosen, but that he was leaning towards allowing only organic pesticides.

New Canaan state Senator Scott Frantz (R-36th) said that he was studying the issue.

"I think that, provided that the DEEP has a real good handle on what's acceptable and what's not from a health point of view, I think it's good to have some flexibility," he told the Advertiser. "I think that [the current ban] is maybe a little too onerous, as there may be quite a few pesticides on the market that are completely harmless. The health and safety of our children is paramount, and we will all be looking at what the best solution is to achieve that ... so that we're not too onerous to the school systems or the businesses."

Research

"Pesticides" are a broad category, including many different types of insecticides, fungicides, and herbicides, and many of them have not been well-studied for their long-term effects. The Environmental Protection Agency maintains a list of pesticides at epa.gov/pesticides/reregistration/status.htm, with fact sheets on those pesticides which have been reviewed for health effects.

According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, a division of the National Institutes of Health, there has been some indication of possible neurological effects from long-term exposure to pesticides —particularly for farmers — but "scientists do not yet have a clear understanding of the health effects of [low-level] pesticide residues."

Despite the limited information, the Environmental Protection Agency restricts how pesticides may be used, and offers guidelines on protecting children from pesticides. More information is at epa.gov/pesticides/health/children.htm.

Natural effects

In addition to their potential impact on human health, pesticides can have an effect on animals maintained by humans as well. This fall, the honey bee hive at the New Canaan Nature Center's community garden died over a matter of weeks — several hundred dead honey bees were found in a pile about three feet from the hive entrance, according to center officials.

After consulting with several local beekeepers, the center concluded that the bees had been poisoned by ingesting pesticides.

"It is likely that those bees found a good pollen or nectar source on a nearby property that uses pesticides and slowly brought it back into the hive with the pollen and nectar," said Melanie Miller, the center's director of animal care. The center does not use pesticides on its property.