The Use of Pesticides Near Schools
Although the danger posed by pesticides in the environment is well documented, in many countries there are no plans to ban them from school fields and other areas in which children play. For example, the Israeli Agriculture Ministry has refused to restrict their use in schools despite recommendations from the Health Ministry not to use pesticides based on glyphosate because they have been identified as carcinogenic by the World Health Organisation.
Glyphosate is a herbicide which is widely used for the control of annual and perennial broadleaved weeds and grasses. In addition to being carcinogenic, it may disrupt endocrine functions and is a proven irritant to skin and eyes.
Pesticide Action Networks Worldwide
Due, at least in part, to PAN (Pesticide Action Networks) in more than ninety countries worldwide, awareness of the risks of using pesticides near schools and playgrounds has increased. Hundreds of towns and cities around the world have restricted or banned the use of glyphosate, as have a number of regions and some complete countries. Many local councils are taking action to restrict the use of pesticides generally, and thirtysix US states have school pesticide regulations in place.
Examples of Progress
The Department of Public Health in California released a report documenting the use of pesticides near schools that revealed that in 2,511 schools in 2010, 500,000 children were at risk from more than 500,000lb of pesticides. A list of chemicals to be assessed and monitored was included in the report.
In France, a study of children near agricultural fields revealed that eighty per cent of those tested were found to have been exposed to pesticides over the previous three months. This resulted in the group Generations Futures to contact the Minister of Ecology to promote organic methods of cultivation in school grounds, parks and green spaces and to end the use of pesticides near human habitation.
Dangers of Pesticides
Children are particularly susceptible to the harmful effects of pesticides because their brains and bodies are still developing. Many pesticides have been shown to act on the nervous system and the reproductive system, causing problems well into the future. Thirteen of the forty most commonly used pesticides are also responsible for causing birth defects. Very young children commonly transfer substances from their hands to their mouths, making them even more vulnerable to illnesses caused by the dangerous chemicals used where they play.
Despite the proven dangers of using pesticides near schools, there is no international agreement on banning them. In part this may be due to lobbying from the powerful chemical industry, who argue that organic principles in agriculture can result in a more dangerous environment rather than greater safety. One claim is that because pests that may be injurious to health are allowed to thrive, diseases such as Lyme disease, which is spread by ticks, may pose more of a danger.
Despite some resistance to banning pesticides near schools, there is a growing movement worldwide towards implementing more effective controls.