A survey of 206 local authorities in the UK has found that school children may be exposed to four potentially cancer-causing pesticides.
The research, carried out by the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) and Pesticides Action Network (PAN), identified the use of carcinogens and pesticides to control rabbits, rats and weeds on school premises.
One substance, glyphosate, is the active ingredient in Monsanto's herbicide RoundUp and is commonly used to kill weeds on hard playgrounds and paths. It has also been linked to lymphoma.
Another chemical, bromadiolone, used to deter rats, has been classifed as ‘extremely hazardous’ by the World Health Organisation.
The survey showed that many schools are unaware of pesticide use in and around the school. A third of respondents said they could not give details of pesticides used in their schools and only a third of schools and pupils were warned when pesticides were being used in schools or by nearby farmers or contractors.
But new European laws require tighter monitoring of pesticide use.
‘New legislation requires European member states to reduce or eliminate the use of pesticides in areas frequented by vulnerable groups such as children,’ said Nick Mole of Pesticides Action Network UK.
Cost of a safe environment 'uneconomic'
Nearly half of local authorities that responded said they would like to go pesticide free but many said that alternatives were unavailable or too costly.
According to one respondent, ‘the cost of providing a safe environment for pupils without the use of pesticides would be uneconomic. Many mulches are unsuitable for school use and alternative techniques, such as use of flame guns are less effective.'
‘Handweeding, hoeing and other cultural methods… would be time consuming, labour intensive and therefore unaffordable,’ they added.
Not rocket science
However Vicki Hird from the Sick of Pesticides Campaign said that non-chemical techniques need not necessarily be more expensive.
‘Managing without pesticides is not rocket science – our survey identified some UK school authorities successfully manage with less pesticides and without higher costs. In America, hundreds of schools use integrated programmes – using less or no pesticides – saving money whilst keeping pests and weeds out or at acceptable levels.’
In the Los Angeles Unified School District all schools now use low risk methods to eliminate pests and weeds and many schools across the country are following suit.
The UK Government is expected to launch a consultation on a national plan for pesticide use very soon. HEAL and PAN are calling for an urgent phase out of all hazardous pestcides to be included in the plan.
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