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What Lies Ahead for School IPM?

In 1990, the Texas legislature ruled to change the way that school personnel dealt with their pests. They enacted a state law requiring all public schools to use integrated pest management (IPM), switching from regular use of highly toxic pesticides to a program of prevention and safer pest management practices. Although 36 states have some form of regulation, Texas is one of the few that require schools to use IPM.

According to a recent blog post by Mike Merchant, that may be changing. As state legislatures try to ease the financial burden on state organizations such as schools, some are considering relaxing IPM requirements for schools. Such as move would leave school administrators with a choice: to continue with their IPM program, or to return to their former regular pest control program. With the mandate in place (although it included no funding), Texas schools have been much quicker to adopt IPM than have schools in states with weak or no school IPM mandates.

Integrated pest management originated on the farm as some of the worst pests began developing resistance to available pesticides. After the passage of the Food Quality Protection Act in 1996, IPM became more necessary as EPA began cancelling some of the more toxic pesticides, leaving growers with few alternatives to protect their crops. Many growers use an integrated pest management program for their fields, although they are not mandated to do so. For growers, IPM makes sense because it prevents field pests from becoming resistant to the chemicals used to control them.

In buildings, however, the idea of managing pests—instead of simply exterminating them—is relatively new and has not enjoyed widespread acceptance. Over the past twenty years, pest management researchers have explored the practice and impacts of pesticide use in schools. In Texas, for instance, a university study in 1994 showed that liquid insecticide sprays (specifically, diazinon and chlorpyrifos) were the top technology used to control pests.  A followup study showed that, at least in Texas, sprays had been replaced by baits and other low impact technologies with better pest control as the result.   In North Carolina, a study compared IPM and conventional control programs in schools and found that environmental residues of pesticides were significantly lower in the IPM schools.  School IPM introduced several new concepts to school maintenance professionals, including exclusion and low-risk management techniques such as baits and traps. Rather than killing pests as they were reported, maintenance personnel caulked openings in walls and added door sweeps to the base of outside doors. Lunch rules called for the tidy disposal of food waste, and teachers learned how to prevent insects from invading their classrooms. Notes were sent to parents prior to any application of pesticides on school property.

Since schools have begun implementing IPM practices, several schools have seen positive changes. In many instances, the first implementation of IPM—which involves training, purchasing of some equipment for sealing and trapping pests—may cost more than a school’s regular pest extermination program. However, schools throughout the country have reported benefits from IPM:

  • A 2005 Texas AgriLife Extension Service study found that Texas schools were 75% more likely to be satisfied with their pest control program than they were before they started using IPM. (Merchant, Insects in the City Blog)
  • A 2005 study that focused on 9 North Carolina schools concluded that IPM was as effective as conventional methods for controlling pests, with significantly fewer pesticides, lower mammalian toxicity and less environmental and off-target residues. (Williams et al., 2005)
  • A 2003 review states that schools with IPM programs often report a reduction in pesticide use and decreases in pest problems. In addition, IPM can produce a cleaner and more secure building (because of added sealants on openings), improved energy efficiency and a more organized workplace. (Fournier et al., 2003)
  • In Salt Lake City, the director of facilities estimated that IPM resulted in an annual cost savings of $14,000-$18,000. (Smith, 2009)
  • In a 2001 survey of Texas school districts, a majority of school personnel felt that IPM controlled pests better than or equal to their previous pest control service. (Merchant, Insects in the City Blog)

With all of the benefits, however, IPM in buildings has its price. Someone, whether it’s the school maintenance professional or teacher at a school, or the homeowner in a residence, has to check regularly for openings that can let pests inside. Economic thresholds, which farmers use to make decisions about when to apply treatments, are much lower or non-existent in a building. People with little tolerance for insects often believe in “overkill” treatments that may kill the pest but leave a toxic residue behind.

The Pest Management Strategic Plan for School IPM set a goal for national implementation of IPM in schools by 2015. As lawmakers begin relaxing standards in states that have been successfully implementing school IPM programs, can IPM stand on its own in schools? Or will the benefits enjoyed by schools with successful programs quickly be forgotten in light of budget decisions?

2 Responses

  1. Enjoyed this article. Would like to learn more about the future of the IPM program in Texas and the surrounding states.

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    This is an extremely neatly written article. I will make sure to bookmark
    it and return to read extra of your useful info. Thanks
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