Lawrence Ledger (Lawrenceville, N.J.) August 11, 2005 Rep. Holt seeks pesticide limits The congressman wants federal limits on the use of pesticides at, and near, schools. QUOTABLE: "It's time that we start being more precautionary, instead of giving children a daily dose of chemicals as they try to live and learn," said Ms. Roberts. "We need to pass this bill." Rep. Holt agreed. By Kate Herts Concern that children are being overexposed to pesticides in an environment presumed to be safe -- their schools -- has prompted U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (D-12) to introduce legislation to place federal restrictions on pesticide use at, and near, schools. Exposure to pesticides can leave children more susceptible to learning and behavioral disorders, asthma and certain childhood cancers, he warned at a news conference Aug. 4 at Lawrence Elementary School, which was attended by several state officials. Rep. Holt's legislation, the School Environmental Protection Act (H.R. 11), would require local educational agencies and schools to implement integrated pest management systems to minimize the use of pesticides in schools, and provide for notification of the use of such chemicals. "This has to do with the poisoning of children," said Rep. Holt, a Hopewell Township resident. "There has been concern for years about the exposure of children to dangerous pesticides. We feel that children deserve a special measure of protection, not only because they are our future -- not only because they play without concern for the environment -- but because they have a higher sensitivity to chemical because they are growing." In Lawrence, the school district has already taken the necessary steps to protect students and faculty from the dangers of pesticides, according to Thomas Eldrige, district business administrator. The district does not spray pesticides near any buildings or on the athletic fields and inside, if pest like roaches or mice are found, the animals are trapped and the food source contributing to the problem is removed, he said. "The district has an integrated pest management plan," Mr. Eldrige said in an interview Friday. "And we are forwarding a formal policy along those lines to (the school board) to adopt in September." Mike Azzara, outreach coordinator for the Northeast Organic Farming Association, noted at the press conference that Lawrence Elementary School even has a pesticide free garden, from which a lot of the food in the cafeteria is served. Still, at the national level, pesticides are a major threat, said Rep. Holt, whose legislation hasn't yet been brought to the floor. "The objection is that I am talking about a potential and unlikely threat," said Rep. Holt. "Well, we now have a study recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) that shows that the children of America are being poisoned." This type of slow, subtle poisoning, which is commonly underdiagnosed, is exactly what the government has a particular responsibility to protect children against, he said. The peer-reviewed JAMA study, "Acute Illnesses Associated With Pesticide Exposure at Schools," analyzed 2,593 poisonings from 1998 to 2002. It found that incidence rates of acute pesticide-related illnesses among children increased significantly from 1998 to 2002. More than two-thirds of poisonings were associated with pesticide use at school. The study pointed to the absence of federal law regulating pesticide use, according to Matthew Dennis, a spokesman for Rep. Holt. There is substantial medical evidence linking chronic asthma and certain childhood asthma to pesticide exposure, state Sen. Barbara Buono, (D- Metuchen) said at the press conference. "Children breathe in more air per pound, so they are more vulnerable," she said. "There is a link between pesticide exposure and acute illness not just in schoolchildren, but also in school employees. We don't know the magnitude of this problem, which is why it's so important to have legislation on the federal level." Assemblywoman Linda Greenstein, (D-Plainsboro), also lent her support to Mr. Holt's efforts. "Congressman Holt's School Protection Act is a vital step forward for our entire country," said Ms. Greenstein. "We'll do everything we can on the state level to help the congressman make this happen." This legislation recognizes some common sense facts, said New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bradley Campbell. The three central principles of Rep. Holt's legislation are to avoid pesticide use, minimize it and notify the community of pesticide use, he said. "It is a needed complement to our state efforts," said Mr. Campbell, citing federal funding and harsher penalties provided by the new legislation. "The federal government hasn't moved quickly enough on Congressman Holt's legislation because they are not moving quickly enough on any legislation needed to protect our kids. We hope that on this issue, Washington gets the message." Rep. Holt noted that many people question whether pesticide poisoning is a real threat. "But the JAMA study makes it clear that this is real," he said. "Parents around the country aren't aware of this threat." The biggest challenge to this type of legislation is enforcement, said Michelle Roberts, project director of Beyond Pesticides, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit dedicated to protecting public health. "It's time that we start being more precautionary, instead of giving children a daily dose of chemicals as they try to live and learn," said Ms. Roberts. "We need to pass this bill." Rep. Holt agreed. "As I stand here and watch the wasps fly by, I'm reminded of the problem," he said. "We need to institute Integrated Pest Management, a common sense way of taking care of the problem." Jane Nogaki, Pesticide Program coordinator of the New Jersey Environmental Federation, emphasized that where kids play and go to school should be pesticide- free zones. "The measure of pesticide residue in children's blood is two to 10 times higher than in parents," said Ms. Nogaki. "We'd like to make a pledge of assistance to school systems as they learn how to do integrated pest management." Federally funded studies have found that one-third of the U.S. population is affected by chemical exposures, said Mary Lamielle, executive director for the National Center for Environmental Health Strategies. "Pesticides have been identified as the primary exposure causing such levels of illness and disability," she said. "Most parents, teachers, administrators and support staff give no thought to building maintenance issues such as pest control practices," Ms. Lamielle continued. "It's one of those areas that we get smart about only if it becomes essential to our well-being. They don't know what's used in the local school or their workplace. They don't know how to find out. They don't know the potential dangers." Rep. Holt said he expects the report will help spur the national and state efforts. Copyright 1995 -- 2005 PowerOne Media, Inc.