Maine officials have launched an education campaign to get school systems to reduce their use of toxic pesticides in classrooms and hallways and on athletic fields and playgrounds.
The campaign follows a recent study by the state Department of Agriculture which found that schools routinely use pesticides containing toxic chemicals that may pose a health risk to children.
School systems said they used pesticides both indoors and outside to control ants, mice, lice, wasps, weeds, molds, mildew, and other pests. The federally funded study found that the pesticides often are applied by untrained and unlicensed workers, in violation of state law.
Data on pesticide use was collected last February in a mail survey completed by 148 school districts. The respondents represent 88 percent of all public schools in the state.
Individual schools were not identified in the report, nor were specific pesticides. Instead, the study listed broad product categories.
The study also found that almost no schools have policies to regulate pesticide use, notify parents of applications, or minimize exposure for students, teachers and other staff members.
In seeking to educate school officials about the need to reduce pesticide use, the agriculture department said they may be unaware of the risks of pesticide exposure, which include learning disorders, other developmental disabilities, or cancer.
Philip DuParry, who oversees safety and health programs at the Maine School Management Association, said many school districts are not aware of state laws regulating pesticide use or of alternatives for dealing with pest-related problems.
“The schools are taking this very seriously,” he said of the survey. “They want to make good decisions, rather than using pesticides as the first line of defense.”