Teachers and staff members, particularly young pregnant women, are also exposed to pesticides because they spend significant time in the school environment, Landrigan said.
Many school districts already are cutting pesticide use. Thirty-six states have school pesticide regulations.
In 2000, Massachusetts adopted a law that requires schools and daycare centers to reduce pesticide use, notify the public when pesticides are applied and document all pesticide use for state agencies to review.
The Boston Public Schools system, which has nearly 56,000 students in 143 separate schools, contracts with local exterminators to implement its IPM plan. The schools avoid spraying pesticides whenever possible, said Andy Puleo, a senior engineer with the district. When spraying is needed, a five-day notice is given to students, staff and parents. Exterminators visit the schools when a school staff member reports a pest problem, but they first try to resolve it without chemicals.
“The health and safety of everyone in the building comes first,” said Puleo. The schools have also had fewer pest complaints since adopting the new strategy, he said.
Los Angeles Unified School District, with over 700,000 students, also uses IPM. The district’s policy relies on non-chemical strategies like vacuuming and installing door sweeps, as well as a limited list of approved pesticides, said Ron Hultz, the district’s IPM coordinator.
The policy in Los Angeles schools influenced the California Healthy Schools Act of 2000, which includes voluntary IPM guidelines. The act requires schools to post warnings when chemicals are used and keep records of pesticide applications.
In Monroe County, Indiana, teachers and custodians notify Jochim when they spot a pest problem. Then Jochim, who has served as the district’s pest management expert for the past 10 years, assesses the situation to determine the best method of pest control.
On the rare occasion that any part of the school grounds requires spraying, parents, teachers and others near the school are notified by email, phone or mail, Jochim said. Informing students and teachers before exposure to pesticides has minimized negative health effects like those experienced by the young boy 15 years ago.
Jochim, who travels to help schools in other states implement IPM, believes schools across the country will share Monroe County’s success.
“It’s a change, and people are often fearful of change,” he said. “But more often than not, a little education takes care of it.”
This article originally ran at Environmental Health News, a news source published by Environmental Health Sciences, a nonprofit media company.