ANNAPOLIS – When Ruth Berlin walked into her son’s school one afternoon last year she smelled an unusual odor. A school official casually told her it was caused by an ant killer that had been sprayed earlier that day.
Berlin and her son, Annapolis area residents who are both chemically sensitive, were sick within 24 hours.
The experience, she said, “brought home the fact that no one knew when the school was being sprayed.”
Berlin and other children’s advocates asked lawmakers Wednesday to require pesticide users to notify schools, and schools to notify parents, before chemicals are used on school grounds, and what those chemicals are.
The bill, before the House Environmental Matters Committee, would require pesticide users to give school officials at least 72 hours advance notice of application. School officials would have to notify parents at least 48 hours in advance. The bill would apply to both indoor and outdoor areas of public schools and child care centers.
The bill would also require pesticide users to post a green “Mr. Yuk” sign where the pesticide is used.
The bill’s sponsor, Del. Marsha Perry, D-Anne Arundel, emphasized the health risks to children from exposure to pesticides. She said medical research has shown that “a very low dosage of some chemicals over a long period of time is far more toxic than a short exposure to a large dosage.”
Perry cited studies that link pesticides to cancer and development problems and said the concern is not limited to children, but extends to adults who work in the schools.
Berlin said of the bill, “We’re asking very little. It’s hard to imagine why anyone would oppose this measure.”
But the bill is opposed, by pest control providers and the Maryland Department of Agriculture.
Both parties argue that the legislation would thwart their efforts to minimize chemical use and keep them from controlling a pest emergency.
Mary Ellen Setting, chief of Agriculture’s Pesticide Regulation Section, said the bill would increase the use of pesticides at schools by working against methods advocated by the department.
The department promotes integrated pest management, which combines several control methods and calls for chemical use only when necessary. Ten of 13 counties recently surveyed by the department are using some integrated pest management strategies in their public schools, Setting said.
Under the system, chemicals are applied as a last minute measure if other controls fail. Setting said that by requiring 48-hour notice and outlawing last minute chemical use, the bill would force pesticide users to “get back to preventative spraying.”
Setting said integrated pest management includes notification when necessary.
Maxine Adler, representing the Maryland Association of Green Industries and the Maryland Pest Control Association, said the legislation would go too far.
For instance, the pesticide user would have to provide the school with the material safety data sheet for the pesticide being used. Adler said she didn’t see that this “very technical chemical information would do anyone any good.” She also said the posting of “Mr. Yuk” signs at places where pesticides had been used would “be confusing to children.” -30-