GAO Study Finds Little is Known About Pesticide Use in Schools and Health Risks to Children.
Lieberman calls on EPA to fill data gap, minimize risk to students.

January 4, 2000

WASHINGTON -- Senator Joe Lieberman today released a report by the General Accounting Office indicating that parents, educators and government officials know little about the amount of pesticides being sprayed at schools or how often children are exposed to them. The GAO review, which was done at Lieberman’s request, documented 2,300 pesticide exposures in American schools from 1993-96, and found that 329 of those individuals required some medical attention.

But the GAO said those figures are incomplete and unreliable because of the lack of hard data about pesticide use in the nation’s 110,000 public schools. There are no comprehensive federal or state records on spraying in schools or on resulting illnesses from exposures. And even with the 2,300 reported cases, there was no follow-up information for 40 percent of them.

“This information gap is troubling on a number of levels,” Lieberman said. “We know that children are particularly vulnerable to the risks associated with pesticides, including elevated rates of leukemia and brain cancer. So we have every right to be concerned, and every incentive to take some action. But we don’t know how great that risk is, because we don’t have any idea how many kids are coming in contact with these chemicals, or how many are suffering as a result. So it’s hard to determine the exact extent of the problem or the proper response.”

To begin filling in those blanks, Lieberman, the ranking member on the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, sent a letter to the EPA today urging the agency to begin collecting and reviewing data on school exposures and to develop a plan for a comprehensive survey on the use of pesticides in schools to better gauge the threat to students and educators.

In the meantime, Lieberman called on the EPA to take immediate steps to minimize the risk of exposure -- starting by providing guidance to pest control companies and school officials on the relative risks of different application methods, and setting strong uniform guidelines for notifying parents and educators before pesticides are used on school grounds.

“Reading the report, I was struck by the fact that while we have a national framework for protecting workers from environmental and health hazards on the job, we have no such system for protecting children from toxic substances in the classroom,” Lieberman said. “You don’t have to be an A student to know that that is a double standard, one that deserves our attention.”

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