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from Agribusiness Examiner #136 Dec. 2001

MIGUEL LLANOS, MSNBC: A congressional committee has killed legislation seeking to protect public school children and staff from certain pesticides. The provision was backed by Democrats, the nation's largest teachers union and even a pesticide group, but it was opposed by Republicans and the National School Boards Association wary of jurisdictional disputes and the possibility of costly, and unfunded, mandates. The Education Conference Committee, made up of Senate and House lawmakers working out compromises on education bills . . . voted down the School Environment Protection Act.

Jay Feldman, head of the group Beyond Pesticides, called the action "shortsighted and unfortunate. Children, teachers and school staff deserve the basic health and safety protections that this right-to-know and pest management measure would provide," he said in a statement shortly after the vote.

Among other steps, the legislation would have required public schools to notify parents about the use of bug-killing chemicals and states to develop a school pest-management plan that considers alternatives to toxic sprays. All Democrats on the committee voted for the legislation, as did one Republican. But all House Republicans voted against the amendment, ensuring its defeat. The legislation's sponsor, Sen. Robert Torricelli, Dem.-New Jersey, said afterwards that "this is something that should have had no controversy . . . There are children playing on football fields, and students eating in cafeterias, that were sprayed with toxic materials immediately before they entered." But Republicans in the House said the provision would have created a bureaucratic nightmare, forcing school districts to comply with new rules but giving them no new funds to do so. Moreover, the legislation did not set clear jurisdictions over pesticide control, the Republicans said.

The American Crop Protection Association said that while it supported the legislation it understood the concerns of Republican lawmakers. "We recognize that the jurisdiction and `unfunded mandate' issues are significant," association president Jay Vroom said in a statement, "and we are prepared to re-engage with other stake holders --- including the environmental community once again --- to seek a new approach and new vehicle to address the issues that still remain." Torricelli and Beyond Pesticides questioned the pesticide industry's motives, with Torricelli saying there was no explanation for the defeat “except the influence of the industry itself."

The National Education Association, which represents teachers, favored the legislation, but the National School Boards Association opposed it.

Proponents of pesticide curbs in schools cite a National Academy of Sciences report --- "Pesticides in the Diets of Infants and Children" that concluded children are among the least protected population group when it comes to pesticide exposure and that given their smaller size they are at higher risk than adults to pesticide.

U.S. SENATOR EDWARD M. KENNEDY ON THE SCHOOL ENVIRONMENT PROTECTION ACT AMENDMENT TO ESEA, NOVEMBER 27, 2001: It's an honor to be here today with my colleagues Senator Torricelli, Senator Harkin, Senator Reid, and Senator Boxer, and I commend them for their leadership in protecting students from pesticides at their schools. I also commend Congressman Rob Andrews for his leadership on the School Environment Protection Act.

In recent weeks, the nation has been gripped by the fear of biological and chemical attack. But every day in schools across the nation, children are exposed to dangerous pesticides that can make them sick. We know that in too many school districts across the country, untrained people are making critical decisions day in and day out about the use of pesticides in school buildings and on school grounds.

We know that children may be especially sensitive to even low levels of dangerous substances. We need to take special precautions to protect the development of their immune systems and their nervous systems. EPA has evidence that a large number of pesticides are carcinogenic in animal studies. Federal law now permits protections for farmers from re-entering their fields too soon after pesticide use, but no such protections are available in the case of schools.

We know from sad and harsh experience the dangerous consequences for children from exposure to lead in paint. We shouldn't have to learn these lessons again for the exposure of children to dangerous pesticides. We cannot allow schools to be chemical death traps for our children. If their schools make them sick, no measure of education reform will improve their learning. Our proposal is a needed step to protect students from the harmful effects of pesticides in and around their school buildings. Children attend school at least 180 days a year. Effective precautions are essential in order to reduce their exposure to environmental chemicals and disease.

Dealing with the harmful impact of pesticides on students and schools should be part of overall education reform. This important measure will provide needed protection by limiting the use of toxic pesticides in and around schools. Parents support the amendment because they want to know their children are safe. Teachers support it because they want to work under safe conditions, and they know that students learn more effectively when they are safe and healthy. It is long past time for Congress to take this important step to protect schools and classrooms from the dangerous use of pesticides.

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