Exposure to both pests and pesticides is a ubiquitous, pernicious health threat in many homes in Philadelphia’s underserved communities. Driven to extreme measures, residents in aging housing stock often use the only tool they know for dealing with pests: dangerous pesticides, especially insecticides and rodenticides that have been banned or are restricted, but are still available. This can lead to serious consequences - increasingly, studies link such pesticide use in homes with rising rates of asthma and other respiratory ailments, particularly among children. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) offers alternative strategies such as sealing cracks and crevices, removing sources of food for pests, and careful use of least-toxic baits and gels. However, this preventative approach is not well known and thus rarely used. At the same time, underserved communities offer few job opportunities and experience high rates of unemployment and underemployment. The combination of limited economic resources, lack of awareness about the risks of pests and pesticides, and virtually no access to alternative and safe pest management resources creates a formidable challenge to healthy and stable communities.
The Philadelphia School and Community IPM Partnership (PSCIP), a collaborative of public and private agencies in health, education, environmental protection, and community and economic development, proposes an initiative that empowers the community to address both the health issues of pests and pesticides and also the need for jobs. Specifically, PSCIP will create a training program in “green jobs” – jobs offering safe pest management services to underserved Philadelphia neighborhoods. The program will:
- Reform the current training for pest control operators (PCO’s) to include IPM pest management, work with existing PCO training programs to incorporate the new training into their curricula, and introduce this training into at least four of Philadelphia’s vocational training programs and institutions.
- Design and implement a small business development program that provides technical assistance, mentoring, micro-loans, and other resources for entrepreneurs to start their own pest management businesses, and, eventually, distribute and apply “green” supplies, particularly in areas underserved by retail businesses. This is the initial step in a longer-term project to develop “Healthy Home SWAT Team,” businesses that will provide home maintenance services in pest management, household repairs and other services in low-income neighborhoods.
- Build the market for “green” pest management through social marketing programs in: schools, health care institutions, churches, other nonprofit programs, and government housing, health, environmental, and other outreach initiatives.
The Jobs for Healthy Homes Program will generate self-employment opportunities in Philadelphia’s low income neighborhoods while reducing toxic pollution and its health consequences, increase awareness of the risks of pesticides, provide knowledge about alternatives for pest management, and increase access to safer pest management products.