I. The Issue:
By design, pesticides are intended to be toxic to a variety of living organisms. Pesticides are typically manufactured to adversely affect one of the following systems within the target pest: circulatory, nervous, respiratory or reproductive. If the applicator is careless or over zealous in his use of pesticides then additional organisms may be unintentionally exposed to the pesticide. This can be especially problematic when the pesticides are being applied indoors where diffusion and atmospheric dispersion of the toxic materials is severely limited.
Another concern associated with the exposure to pesticides is the potential for these materials to bioaccumulate within living organisms and to persist in the environment. In general terms, bioaccumulation is the process where a substance is taken up or absorbed by an organism and stored in the body. This process can be extended further as you watch how materials may move through the food chain. In some cases, the species at the top of the food chain tend to accumulate and store all the contaminants contained within their prey. The process of concentrating contaminants as you move up the food chain is a form of bioaccumulation and can adversely impact the health of the organism. The problem of persistence is that many pesticides were originally designed to not be susceptible to biodegradation and to last a long time in order to prolong their effectiveness. The issue here is that persistence tends to promote bioaccumulation and to prolong the exposure of all organisms to a toxic material regardless of whether they were an intended target to the toxin. Fortunately, there has been a significant effort within the last ten to fifteen years to consider these two problems and to develop alternative pest management strategies or to develop pesticides susceptible to biodegradation and not conducive to bioaccumulation. However, the legacy of past pesticide usage may continue to pose these concerns for health officials wherever these materials were used.
Recently, there has also been an active discussion of the potential long-term impact of pesticide exposure on the human body. Many researchers are especially concerned about the net effect these materials may have on the reproductive and endocrine systems. Keep in mind that pesticides have naturally evolved or have been synthesized by man to disrupt biological activity at the enzymatic level. As a result, the concern for how chronic exposure to pesticides may effect the body is worthy of concern and research.
In light of these concerns, it is prudent to assume that where possible, all individuals should make an effort to reduce their exposure to pesticides. In addition, all individuals responsible for the application of pesticides should initiate steps to eliminate or reduce the need to apply pesticides and where this is not possible, efforts should be initiated to seek non or less toxic alternatives.
II. The approach taken:
Initially, our approach was to respond to and investigate pesticide odor complaints as we received them. It soon became apparent that the continued misapplication of pesticides inside the high school posed a potential exposure risk to the building occupants. In response, we made a concerted effort to research and learn about pertinent regulations governing pesticide application. We also attempted to learn how and why the materials were being used in the schools. This caused us to realize that poor housekeeping had created some of the insect problems observed in the schools. We also noted that rather than address the housekeeping problems (e.g. improper food storage in the classroom), the staff would apply pesticides to control the problem (e.g. ants). This observation prompted an educational effort to promote more effective and safer pest control methods.
At the same time, in response to numerous complaints submitted by the general public regarding the application of pesticides in the Commonwealth, the Massachusetts Department of Food and Agriculture completed a major overhaul of state regulation governing the use of pesticides. This action established training and licensing requirements for pesticide applicators as well as notification requirements prior to an application. These regulatory changes clearly defined the qualifications and responsibilities of the applicator. In essence, the Commonwealth established a performance benchmark for all pesticide applicators with the adoption of these standards in 1993.
Finally, in 1995, upon realizing that the school maintenance department did not intend to have a staff member obtain an applicator license, the Board of Health convinced the School Department to dispose of its pesticide inventory and to obtain contracted services for pest management. The Board of Health has not received any pesticide odor complaints since the contracted services have been utilized for pest management within local schools.
III. Observations made:
While inspecting pesticide odor complaints, it became apparent that some of the applicators had not fully reviewed the pesticide label and application instructions. In several cases, it appeared that the applicator had thought that if a little pesticide was good, then a lot must be great. Noticeable nuisance odors could be detected at several of these locations. We did not determine if these odors could cause physical harm to the building occupants but it was apparent that the detection of odors did generate a psychological or emotional reaction in some occupants.
The maintenance staff was observed applying pesticides inside the high school that were labeled for outdoor application only. Again, the applicator had either not fully reviewed the pesticide label or had ignored the application instructions. We did not determine if these applications had caused physical harm to the building occupants, however the physical and chemical qualities of the product suggested that the material would persist in the building and would not quickly dissipate. As a result, it is possible that some occupants may have been exposed to elevated concentrations of this pesticide.
In addition, we noted that some of the faculty and maintenance staff did not consider pesticides to be toxic or potentially harmful substances. This was especially true if the material in question was a common consumer item. The potential household use of the product appeared to detoxify the material in the eyes of the user. Unfortunately, the health and safety evaluations provided by the manufacturer indicate that this is not a valid opinion.
A final and continuing observation is the failure to post all the necessary state notifications prior to and after all pesticide applications within the schools. This appears to be a common problem in most public and private buildings not just our local schools. In general, there appear to be three routine causes for this oversight: ignorance of the requirement which you would not expect from a licensed applicator, oversight of or disregard for the requirement, or an intentional avoidance of posting the notification in order to not trigger an emotional response from building occupants opposed to pesticide application.
IV. Problems or concerns noted:
- Potential adverse impact on air quality resulting in exposures to staff and students as a result of the misapplication of pesticides inside th