By Marcia Anderson
On any normal day, children and child care providers may be potentially exposed to pesticides from indoor and/or outdoor pesticide applications in the child care setting. As a member of the Region 2 EPA Pesticides Program, I took part in a study conducted in one New York City borough to evaluate the manner, type and frequency of pesticides being applied in child care centers (CCCs) in order to improve pest management practices and reduce childhood exposure.
We found that 80% of the CCCs studied, applied pesticides on a scheduled basis. This high frequency of applications show a strong dependence on pesticides being applied as a deterent, or preventative. Since many children spend a large portion of their day at child care facilities it is clear that reducing their exposures in these facilities would greatly reduce all of the children’s cumulative potential exposure to pesticides.
In addition, we found that 58% of child care centers relied on the spraying of pesticides by pest control companies to combat pests. Sprayed chemicals may become airborne and settle on toys, desks, counters, shades and walls. The children and staff may touch contaminated surfaces and unknowingly expose themselves to invisible residues that can remain for days. This means that over half of all the children in the study were at a heightened risk of exposure because pesticide sprays volatilize and become airborne, leading to inhalation exposure, then they settle down on surfaces, leading to additional risk of dermal exposure. When children put toys in their mouths that spray has settled on, or put their fingers in their mouths, the children are at risk for ingestion exposure.
In a study conducted by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation it was found that the heaviest applications of registered pesticides in all of New York State, including the upstate agricultural region, occurred in the boroughs of NYC.
With children being potentially exposed to increasing amounts of pesticides applied in their centers, we knew that educating CCC administrators, head custodians and pest management professionals on the use of alternative pest control methods was imperative. We focused on educating then on the adoption and implementation of integrated pest management (IPM). We explained that a detailed assessment of the pest problem must be performed in order to determine the best control method; that pests can be controlled by eliminating their access to food, water and shelter, and it is important to block points of pest entry, rather than wait until they have entered the CCC and use just chemical controls. In addition, by utilizing maintenance, sanitation, education, exclusion, and by using the least toxic gels, traps and baits, the majority of pests in child care centers can be controlled with little to no pesticides.
By educating center administrators and staff about the IPM process of pest management strategies, and the importance of reducing the use of pesticides around young children, we were able to reduce the number of scheduled pesticide applications from 80% to 36% . Also increased was the number of CCCs that no longer have pesticides applied, resulting in a significant reduction of children being potentially exposed to chemical pesticides.
About the Author: Marcia is the bed bug and vector management specialist for the Pesticides Program in Edison. She has a BS in Biology from Monmouth, second degree in Environmental Design-Landscape Architecture from Rutgers, Masters in Instruction and Curriculum from Kean, and is a PhD in Environmental Management candidate from Montclair – specializing in Integrated Pest Management and Environmental Communications. Prior to EPA, and concurrently, she has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology and Oceanography at Kean University for 14 years.