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Parents may not see many pesticide use letters

By Ben Lumpkin Daily Planet staff
Thursday August 23, 2001

A new state law requiring school districts to notify parents in writing of pesticide use at school sites probably won’t have a dramatic impact in Berkeley, where the school district has had a policy severely limiting pesticide use for more than 10 years. 

Even school contractors are prohibited from using pesticides like the common Roundup weed killer, according to Gene LeFevre, director of maintenance for the school district. 

“That’s why a lot of our properties look so bad,” LeFevre said. 

Still, some officials welcomed the law Wednesday. They cited incidents which have called into question the district’s compliance with the pesticide policy over the years, and said the new law gives those concerned about their children’s exposure to hazardous chemicals one more way to hold the school district accountable. 

The law, AB2260, goes into effect this school year. It requires districts to notify parents of any pesticides they plan to use at the beginning of the year and then, at the parents’ request, to give 72-hour notification before all pesticide applications. 

Studies have shown that children and elderly individuals are the most susceptible to the possible adverse effects of poisons found in pesticides. According to the Healthy Schools Campaign, a California group that advocates against the use of pesticides at schools, many schools still use pesticides that are acutely toxic and, in some cases, known to cause cancer. 

Berkeley school board Director John Selawsky said the district hasn’t always implemented its pesticide policy “as well as (he) would like.” A few years ago rat poison was left in an area at John Muir School where students could have come in contact with it, Selawsky recalled. 

“You’ve got to be really careful where you put the stuff,” Selawsky said. “Kids will find a way to get into areas where they’re not supposed to be.” 

Nabil Al-Hadithy, manager of the city’s Toxic Management Division, said the Berkeley school district doesn’t have a good record of compliance with existing laws regulating the use and disposal of hazardous materials.  

Since the late ’80s, California state law has required schools to file complete “chemical inventories” with municipal officials each year, Al-Hadithy said. Until last month, when a chemical inventory for Berkeley High School was filed with the Toxic Management Division, the district had ignored the law for years, Al-Hadithy said.  

Chemical inventories are still outstanding for all the other school sites in Berkeley, Al-Hadithy added. In an agreement brokered by the Alameda County District Attorney earlier this year, the district agreed to turn over all the missing documentation by Oct. 1. 

Pesticide policy or no pesticide policy, chemical inventories are an important way of tracking whether a school district is using the chemicals, Al-Hadithy said. In 1998, when the district failed to provide chemical inventories, Al-Hadithy led an impromptu inspection of its maintenance yard at 1707 Russell St. He found a 55 gallon drum of Copper Napthenate, a pesticide used to protect wood from termite attack. The chemical looked as though it was being used by the district’s maintenance staff, Al-Hadithy said. 

The new notification requirements will go even further to ensure that all pesticide use is recorded and reported to the public, Al-Hadithy said. 

“We did the 1998 inspection (of the maintenance yard) for BUSD in an effort to jump start their environmental compliance,” Al-Hadithy said. “We’re really eager to assist them.”