Senators Spotlight Pesticides in Schools

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At least two United States senators have concluded that American children are at risk because parents are not warned about pesticides sprayed at schools. Some scientists disagree and claim that the senators are unnecessarily alarming parents based on an unfounded health scare and are consequently misdirecting priorities for children's health.

Senators Patty Murray (D-Wash) and Robert Toricelli (D-NJ) recently introduced the "School Environment Protection Act," which among other things would require schools to notify parents when and which pesticides are being used at school. "This bill tells parents and teachers what we need to know to protect our children," Murray said at a Capitol Hill press conference last Fall.

A spokesperson for Murray told ACSH that, despite the consensus in the scientific community that pesticides used in schools are not harmful to children, this bill is good because "basically, you just never know."

The spokesperson explained that since the bill would require schools to notify parents -- even if a safe pesticide were being used -- parents could use that information to take action to protect their children. For instance, she said, "parents can take their children out of the environment . . . . They can eliminate any risk at all by taking their children out of school that day."

Dr. Miles Weinberger, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Iowa, said he wonders if the senators have been misguided by anti-pesticide activists.

"If they are using pesticides, their purpose is to eliminate roaches and flies and other insects that are unpleasant and have potential to transmit diseases themselves," said Weinberger. He noted that in older schools, particularly in the Northeast, "roaches may contribute to allergies -- so any safe measure that kills them would enhance the safety of the school, rather than create harm."

Murray insists that parents ought to be warned when a school is treated, so that parents can choose to keep their kids home. Weinberger responds: "That is absurd. Unless you are an insect crawling out of the corners, it's absurd to consider that it's even remotely harmful to your children."