May 7, 1997 I am the parent of two daughters, one with asthma, an educational consultant who specializes in the needs of students with chronic health conditions, an active board member of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation/New England Chapter (AAFA), the Coalition for Health Education in Schools (COHES), the Special Needs Advisory Network (SPAN), and the Understanding Handicaps Program of Newton, a member of the Massachusetts Healthy Schools Network of the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH), an expert consultant to the Committee on Asthma in the School, National Asthma Education and Prevention Program, National Institutes of Health-National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, a health educator for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health's Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program, 1984-87, and the chair of the Committee for Alternatives to Pesticides of the Green Decade Coalition/Newton.
Testimony in support of The Pesticide Disclosure Act, S. 1062
Presented to the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Agriculture, May 7, 1997
I am here to support the Pesticide Disclosure Act because I believe it can help protect children from sources of preventable illness and disability, specifically from exposure to chemicals that sabotage their health and development, wasting millions and millions of scarce health and education dollars. The National PTA position statement reminds us that "Pesticides are, by nature, poisons, and exposure--even at low levels--may cause serious adverse health effects. Our nation's children, because of a variety of age-related factors, are at increased risk of cancer, neurobehavioral impairment and other health problems as a result of their exposure to pesticides." A report from the U.S. Government Office of Technology Assessment on Identifying and Controlling Poisons of the Nervous System states: "In general, [human health] research demonstrates that pesticide poisoning can lead to poor performance on tests involving intellectual functioning, academic skills, abstraction, flexibility of thought, and motor skills; memory disturbances and inability to focus attention; deficits in intelligence, reaction time, and manual dexterity; and reduced perceptual speed. Increased anxiety and emotional problems have also been reported." I am here to testify because of my concern about the lack of accounting and accountability that hide the true contents of these products and the quantity and extent of their use in our schools, in our neighborhoods and everywhere in our community where we visit, shop, play, and grow food. I support the Pesticide Disclosure Act because it calls for the creation of a data base so we can begin to assess the sheer number and quantity of different pesticides we encounter on a daily basis. I support the Pesticide Disclosure Act because it promotes Integrated Pest Management, a systems approach to environmental management based on knowledge and problem-solving designed to achieve long-term benefits and to reduce the need for pesticides. Without information about the pesticides, the full list of ingredients, the time, place, quantity and extent of application, we never suspect toxic exposures, never attribute health problems to the pungent cloud drifting from the neighbors yard, the vapors filling our home from the Dursban so liberally applied to baseboards in our kitchens, the dust, granules or liquid applied to the classroom carpet or school food service area, the flea bomb set off in the family den, the fogger set off at midnight in the grocery store, the head lice shampoo used time and time again, or the Roundup on the school soccer field or on the MBTA tracks that run by our back yards. The source of my concern comes from both my personal experience as a parent as well as my professional activities as an educational consultant specializing in the needs of students with chronic health conditions. I receive calls about children, especially those with asthma, being exposed to conditions in schools that make them sick. Parent after parent has called me about children being sprayed with pesticides on the playing fields and being overcome by noxious pesticide fumes in their classrooms. I have listened to many parents and teachers from around the state and around the country who are not only outraged at the reckless use of toxic chemicals in classrooms and on playgrounds, but at the ignorance and indifference of school officials about the hazards of these products, and the failure of local health agents as well as state and federal officials to take action against these practices. When parents try to get information they are typically given false and uninformed assurances such as expressed in the following statement in a school official's letter: "My understanding is that they use all non-toxic applications." In one school in another state, proactive parents thought they had influenced the school to stop using pesticides when the school had merely stopped posting. Nobody was the wiser until people began getting sick during an early Saturday morning soccer game following an even earlier blanket spraying of Roundup. The failure to inform obviously leads to the unwitting and unwilling exposure of children to pesticides. A mother quoted in a news story about school children sickened by pesticides in a NY school points out a terrible irony: "Schools won't give children an aspirin without their parents' signed consent, yet toxic chemical are used inside and outside schools without parents' knowledge or permission." I began doing research on local pesticide problems three years ago when my daughter came home upset because she had become extremely short of breath and two students had vomited after her teacher had insisted that everyone in her class do a short field run. When I called the teacher to ask about the possibility of chemicals on the field, he assured me that he had been teaching for years and there had never been any chemicals used. Imagine my surprise when I learned that the city did contract with a landscaper to do a regular blanket spraying on school fields and public parks of the herbicide PRE-M 60 DG and an herbicide mix of 2,4-D, MCPP and Dicamba. The herbicide, ACCLAIM 1EC was scheduled for spot spraying later in the spring. These are the fields where the soccer leagues, the little league and school children play, where families picnic, and babies crawl. This is a field where children cross twice a day to the school from the school bus stop. The information in the material safety data sheets informed me that these herbicides are harmful if swallowed or inhaled, may be irritating to the respiratory tract, and may cause skin redness and swelling. Vapors or spray mists are irritating to the eyes, causing irreversible eye damage. Signs of exposure include nausea, vomiting, stomach pains, muscle weakness and a fall in blood pressure.
An article in the Journal of School Health warns, "Exposure through the skin can occur when pesticides are spilled on the skin or when sprays or dust laden with chemicals are blown on the body by the wind. Re-entering a lawn too soon after pesticide application also can result in absorption of chemicals through the skin or through breathing the vapors. The larger the skin area contaminated and the longer the chemical is on the skin, the more hazardous the exposure." I began to try and get information about all the pest control contractors who apply pestiicides to the buildings and fields. However, obtaining the information took many many phone calls to the School Department over several weeks. The information was difficult to obtain because different contractors worked for different city departments and they did not communicate or coordinate with each other or with the school. Neither school staff nor parents got informed about the pesticide applications and no warning signs were posted.
After I called attention to the issue, signs were posted at the high school but then a teacher told my older daughter to ignore the yellow flags when her class used the track. Luckily my daughter knew enough to stay away. Her classmates did not. This is not a deliberate campaign against children but ignorance that is abetted by the current conspiracy of silence about pesticides. Since schools do not readily provide notice of pesticide applications, I believe it should be explicitly required because it might help to jolt some of us from a false sense of security that schools are safe havens. Then perhaps communities would begin to re-evaluate the use of pesticides, at least in environments designed for the care and education of children. I support the legislation because it is a step towards a public policy based on an ethic of community and integrity instead of the secrecy, the anonymity and the deception that characterizes the use of pesticides. I object to the language which sanitizes the reality that we are talking about poisons. For example, acts of pesticide contamination are called treatments, applications, controls...anything to distract people from understanding that these products are poison. Why else would a tank sprayer be called Spray DOC unless we are supposed to think that the poisons convey some hygienic or antiseptic benefit.
Product advertising and names such as Roundup and Rodeo are designed to appeal to the cowboy gunslinger or soldier mindset.This HQ Warehouse advertisement tells us that the pesticides Diazinon, Sevin, Malathion are safe on fruits and vegetables. And most perfidious of all is the use of the term "inerts" to perpetuate the fiction that these hidden ingredients are benign or harmless when they may be xylene, benzene or other toxic substance. I support the legislation because I am haunted by an article by Dr. Lynn R. Goldman, a pediatrician, epidemiologist and administrator for the Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances of the US EPA. She describes how an infant was being treated for cerebral palsy until a parent's remark alerted the physician that Diazinon had been sprayed in the home when the child was 8 weeks old. An investigation, months after the application, found levels of metabolites of Diazinon in the child's urine that was comparable to levels typically found in farm workers. Six weeks after the family left the home, the child no longer exhibited symptoms that were now recognized as chronic Diazinon poisoning. Goldman emphasized how unusual it was for the clinician to make the connection between the spraying of the Diazinon and the child's symptoms, and to initiate an investigation, especially after a different diagnosis had already been accepted. "Under other circumstances," Goldman writes, "this child might have gone on to have chronic neurological damage from the exposure, and no one would have known why." In my own neighborhood there is a nursery school where yellow pesticide warning signs appear regularly outside their ground level classroom windows. The children -- 2, 3 or 4 years old -- are frequently taken on walks in the late morning around the block, where, on any given day in late spring or summer, from five to ten or more lawns are getting their regular application of pesticides. I often wonder what there total daily exposure is and if they ever run their hands over the grass and put their fingers in their mouths. I wonder if any of these children throw up after lunch or have trouble settling down for a nap. I wonder if they ever get red itchy eyes, hives, rashes, runny noses or wheezes--symptoms that people typically attribute to flu, the common cold, stress or psychological factors. Not only is the public misled and their ignorance and trust exploited by decades of deceptive advertising and false safety claims, but so are our physicians. According to Reports by the Institutes of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, it is the rare physician who receives more than a few hours training in the health effects of environmental agents. The report cites the need to dissuade physicians from the "all to common practice" of reflexively offering blanket assurances to patients who feel that they have been exposed to, or harmed by, an environmental toxicant. Thus we don't know and we don't recognize the source of health problems that can disrupt and destroy young lives--unremediated headaches, stomach aches, bouts of nausea, mysterious leg pains--sometimes called "growing pains," strange episodes of numbness and tingling, learning and behavior disorders, mood swings, seizures, asthma attacks and cancers, which are especially mysterious in families with no history of these conditions. In closing I would like to add, that I have been working to find a better model of community responsibility and that it has given me enormous satisfaction to work with a dedicated group of people in Newton, both in the Green Decade Coalition and as part of an IPM committee that is drafting a citywide IPM policy for Newton's buildings and grounds. In a recent article, Doug Dickson, the committee chairman, writes: By adopting an IPM policy, the City of Newton acknowledges it obligation to model environmentally-responsible practices and to accrue the financial benefit of planning and prevention in maintaining high-quality parks, playgrounds and open spaces. The city also recognizes its responsibility to prevent the contamination of soil, air and water, and to protect its citizens from exposure to hazardous chemicals. I offer this approach as a model to the state as an example of what our children deserve and of what enlightened well-informed citizens can do working together. I agree with EPA Administrator Carol Browner, "Only when we have protected our children from toxic threats can we be sure that we are providing adequate public health protection for all Americans." I believe that the Pesticide Disclosure Act that provides for responsible public accounting and public accountability will benefit us all. Thank you.
Eileen L. Daniel, "Lawn Chemicals on School Grounds, Are they Safe?" Journal of School Health, January, 1991. Case Studies of Environmental Risks to Children, The Future of Children, Summer/Fall, 1995  In 1985, only 50 percent of the US medical schools included occupational and environmental health in their curricula with an average of only four hours taught over four years. In 1992, only 66 percent of schools required about six hours of study devoted to environmental or occupational health.
The world endures solely by virtue of the breath of school children. (Talmud)