IPM in Schools
Pest management in and around school buildings and grounds have become a "hot topic" lately. There is both state and national legislation pending (as of June 2001) that would require schools to start using an IPM approach, to notify parents when pesticides would be sprayed and post signs in highly visible places stating that pesticides were sprayed, with re-entry information.
Certainly, high pest populations in schools degrade the learning environment and can cause significant health threats or dangerous structural damage. Rodents associated with humans can transmit disease directly by contaminating food with their urine or feces or by biting people. These rodents can also transmit several diseases indirectly by way of fleas. Rodents also gnaw on electrical wires and fires can result. Termites may cause significant structural damage, wasp stings are painful and may cause allergic reactions. Flies, gnats and ants can create annoyances and detract from the learning environment.
Asthma is on the increase in the US and this is reflected in state level statistics in Pennsylvania. Data from Philadelphia show that death rates due to asthma are extraordinarily high. Cockroach infestations are implicated in increased asmtha in inner cities. Studies in 8 Eastern and Midwestern cities show that cockroach allergens in childrens' homes contributes significantly to the incidence of serious allergy conditions. Further, the presence of cockroaches in schools can be a significant source of the allergens that contribute to asthmatic. These are unacceptable conditions for our school children and other occupants and pest management programs are obviously needed.
On the other hand, pest management practices that rely heavily on pesticides are reactive rather than preventative and may also directly cause problems. Issues of poor indoor air quality, pesticide hypersensitivity, pesticide residues and childrens' heightened sensitivity to potential damages of pesticides are all cited in rationale for new legislation across the country. As common as pesticide use is, we know very little about relative quantities of what products are used and how safety in schools is assured. Incidents of pesticide poisoning are unevenly reported and difficult to interpret due to lack of consistency in reporting criteria and follow-though. Long-term effects of exposure to multiple pesticides, presumed to be higher in enclosed environments is also unknown.
Our own surveys in PA (1998 and 2001) show that the majority of schools rely on the services of profession pest control companies both for information (73 - 79%) and to physically manage pests in the schools (60-86%). These surveys reveal that while most schools practice some forms of sanitation and other preventative measures, they to not have an IPM policy (78%). The majority (71%) had also not had any inquiries about pest management from the public.
Some contradictions are evident in these surveys: Most school districts say they utilize IPM however, most also said that when pesticides are used, all buildings are treated the same. This confusion about what IPM is and is not creates a barrier to implementation. Interestingly, although the Pennsylvania Association of School Board Association has created a model IPM policy for the schools, very few school districts are aware of it, nor are they using it..
To actually carry out IPM in Schools, a team effort will be required: superintendents, principals, facilities managers, teachers, students and custodians all have to cooperate. (Can you see why?)
Once students understand how IPM works in building and grounds, it can be turned into a number of projects - they can be in charge of monitoring, coming up with IPM plans for the school grounds, research and recommend turf and landscape species plantings to minimize pest problems, and more.
In the activity below and in the materials in your packets, you will become familiar with what is involved in real-world IPM right in your own school. The new manual, "IPM in Pennsylvania Schools" provides an in-depth overview of common pest species in schools. This can augment classes in biology and usually provide you with live specimens on site!