Posted: 1/3/00.

Notification of pesticide use in school districts required under proposed legislation

Under proposed “right-to-know” legislation, school districts would need to notify parents that certain pesticides are used in the district and provide a schedule of estimated applications.

Parents could also request to be notified 48 hours in advance of the application of certain pesticides under the proposed bill.

The proposed bill — HF 2520 — states that the long-term health effects on children of the application of certain class pesticides “may not be fully understood.”

Last session, the late Sen. Janet Johnson of North Branch drafted school pesticide legislation and championed not only parental notification but the development of integrated pest management (IPM) practices in the schools districts.

“The bill that my mom brought in a funny way came from me,” said Jessica Lipsky Roe, a Golden Valley attorney and the daughter of the late senator.

Roe said she became concerned about pesticides in the schools after reading a magazine article about its potential dangers. After alerting her mother, the senator soon had the article’s authors in her office in order to learn more, said Roe.

The current pesticides legislation is a “pared down” version of her mother’s bill, said Roe.

“We’re not trying to ban pesticides. We’re trying to give parents information on which to make decisions,” she said.

Her hope is that the legislation would spark a grassroots movement of parents concerned about pesticide use in schools, said Roe.

The issue shouldn’t be partisan, she said. Concern should focus on the children, said Roe.

Rep. Kathy Tingelstad, R, Andover, a bill co-author, said the proposed legislation was “taking the first step.”

As the upcoming legislative session falls in a non-funding year, it was felt the bill shouldn’t place any unfunded mandates on the school districts, she said.

To this end, the language of the bill, authored by Rep. Jean Wagenius, DFL, Minneapolis, attempts to tailor its provisions to things the school districts are doing already, she said.

Part of the bill, dealing with IPM, will probably need to be rewritten, she said.

The proposed legislation has been gaining prominence but sometimes for the wrong reason, she said.

People have been confusing its title, the Parents’ Right-To-Know Act of 2000, with abortion legislation.

The bill has nothing to do with abortion, she explained.

Gauging the risks pesticides pose and crafting legislation to address these risks is difficult, said Tingelstad.

“Certainly we don’t want to scare parents and staff unnecessarily,” she said.

Chuck Stroebel, an environmental research science with the Minnesota Department of Health, said while some people want to ban pesticides from the schools, a kind of balancing act needs to take place.

For example, cockroaches present as legitimate a health concern as the pesticides used to eradicate them.

“My general sense is that exposure to low levels of pesticides found in the environment doesn’t pose a significant health risk,” said Stroebel.

These type of low level exposures are “not a cause for alarm,” he said.

This is not to say that pesticides used improperly can’t prove to be a health risk.

They can, he said.

Still, researchers lack the good data needed to know whether children are more at risk from certain chemicals than from others, he said.

“A lot of research is being done in this area,” said Stroebel.

While children’s susceptibility has been given a good deal of attention , older adults, and adolescents, too, may well be more at risk from certain chemicals than the general population.

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture is currently compiling the results of a survey taken of Minnesota schools on the use of pesticides.

The survey results should provide more information on the frequency of pesticides use in the schools, but does not address the issue of student exposure to these chemicals, Stroebel said.

Still, he characterized the survey as a good first step.

While personally feeling that the kind of parental notification proposed in the legislation is acceptable, Stroebel said it does raise concerns.

“My concern is that we’re alarming people without providing information,” he said.

The Health Department is currently trying to determine how many school districts use IPM practices in their use of pesticides, said Stroebel.

Preliminary data from the Agriculture Department survey suggests that a lot of Minnesota schools do not have an IPM plan, he said.

Such plans attempt to limit pesticide use by identifying tolerable limits for pests, promote mechanical means for controlling pests, and establish cleaning activities and best management practices, among other goals.

Sen. Jane Ranum, DFL, Minneapolis, is expected to carry the Parents’ Right-To-Know Act of 2000 in the Senate.