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Pesticide-free schools: Full of rats and roaches?

By Alex A. Avery and Dennis T. Avery
web posted May 7, 2007

Our local radio station is encouraging parents to protest the use of pesticides in our schools. The station is broadcasting "public service announcements" saying pesticides used in the schools are "linked" to cancer, asthma and lower IQ scores among the kids. Probably you are hearing the same announcements on your radio stations. They're produced by Earthworks, a consortium of eco-groups, and sponsored by The Ad Council.

Pesticide fears are clearly mainstream these days. The reality is that we worry about pesticides because so few of today's parents have actually seen the diseases that rats, mice, and roaches have historically brought with them. Public health officials are certain that if vermin took over today's schools, as they took over 19th-century cities before modern pesticides were developed, our children would not be safe in schools from diseases we have been able to forget.

The dried urine and feces from rats and mice can spread such diseases as leptospirosis, rat-bite fever, and at least one form of meningitis. Rats are the historic vehicle for epidemics of Black Plague. Cockroaches can spread typhoid fever, dysentery, gastroenteritis, and carry in their guts the bacteria that cause salmonella and staphylococcus infections.

Nor is there any evidence that the pesticides approved for use in schools pose any dangers to the kids—or anybody else.  The source materials cited by Earthworks don't provide any peer-reviewed documentation of pesticide harm. Their statements are full of weasel-words such as "linked," with the linkage perhaps just somebody's printed accusation. Or they say "researchers hypothesize," which is the professional's word for guessing.

Earthworks says researchers "hypothesize that pesticides are among the preventable causes of asthma in children." In fact, the evidence says it's the discarded casings of cockroaches that are a major cause of asthma. If you don't control the roaches, you get more asthma attacks among the kids.

The EPA once told us we could control cockroaches just by taping up our windows, doors and the cracks along the baseboards—but I never found anyone who believed that. If you can't control cockroaches at home by taping up the cracks around the house, don't expect it to work in a public building. Especially with eggs sacks hiding in lunch sacks and grocery bags, just waiting for a free ride into the building. 

Even uncontrolled weeds in the schoolyards pose danger. More ragweed means more allergy attacks. But the anti-pesticide activists oppose even the use of herbicides such as glyphosate, which health authorities say is about as toxic as tea and talcum powder.

However, the members of the Pesticide Action Network apparently cannot emotionally tolerate the use of any pesticide anywhere, any time, no matter what dangers to our children they prevent.  We should be able to rely on the Ad Council to check out their "public service" announcements. In this case they should take another look at the Earthworks' agenda. ESR

Alex Avery is Director of Research and Education at the Hudson Institute's Center for Global Food Issues and author of The Truth About Organic Foods. Dennis Avery is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.  Readers may contact them at Post Office Box 202, Churchville, VA 24421.


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