Opinion: To protect school kids from toxic pesticides, protect state and local pesticide laws

Pesticides are designed to be toxic – to bugs and weeds. But pesticides can also be toxic to people, especially children.

The threat posed by pesticides to our kids when they’re at school is just one of the many reasons Congress preserved a role for state and local governments when enacting our federal pesticide laws.

It’s also why more than 30 states – including Texas, Kentucky and Georgia – have adopted tough standards for how pesticides can be sprayed near schools. It’s not just California, as pesticide industry lobbyists would like you to believe.

Lawmakers in Texas and California, for example, have required school officials to use low-risk pesticides. In Alabama and North Carolina, crop dusting near schools is prohibited. Other states – including Arizona, Maine, Michigan, New Hampshire and Louisiana – have implemented buffer zones for pesticide spraying around schools.

Many states, including Illinois, require that schools alert students before or after spraying. Some states, including Kentucky, Nevada and Minnesota, require that parents be notified or, like Pennsylvania and Louisiana, require that schools keep a registry of students who are sensitive to pesticides. Other states, including Georgia and New Mexico, restrict when pesticides can be sprayed near school..

Laws designed to protect our kids from toxic pesticides don’t stop at the school fence. Many states, including Iowa and Kansas, have adopted laws that restrict pesticides from being sprayed in public parks used by children. Dozens of communities have adopted local ordinances to limit pesticide spraying in these parks.

The inconvenient truth for pesticide lobbyists is that red states are just as likely to restrict pesticides as blue states. It turns out that parents and caregivers everywhere love their kids.

Pesticide industry seeks to block state laws

pesticide spray

There are other reasons that state and local governments have adopted their own pesticide standards.

For example, some states have restricted certain pesticides, citing cancer risks. Other states have acted to protect workers who use pesticides, including farmworkers and landscapers, or farmers whose crops have been destroyed by drift.

And some workers who have been injured by pesticides have relied on state laws to seek compensation for the harms they have suffered.

All of these laws would be wiped off the books if the pesticide industry got its way. The industry is spending millions to persuade Congress to block, or preempt, these laws and rob state and local officials of their ability to protect us, including our children and workers.

Although the Environmental Protection Agency reviews pesticides for safety, it does not have the capacity to take local needs – like protecting kids at school or playing in parks – into account.

That is precisely why Congress has long sought to preserve local pesticide laws, and why the Supreme Court has consistently upheld these laws.

At a time when Congress is being taken hostage by extremists, Congress should not let industry extremists overturn a century of pesticide law.

Farmers need tools to manage the risks of farming, and no one – not even regulators in California – is seeking to ban the use of all pesticides, as some pesticide lobbyists contend.

There are literally thousands of pesticides that have been approved for use by the EPA, and more are submitted for EPA’s review every day.

Suggesting that protecting kids from pesticides being sprayed near schools will somehow end the use of all pesticides is akin to saying that banning people from bringing guns near schools will end the ownership of guns everywhere.

Blocking states from protecting our children when they are at school or playing in our parks makes no sense to parents who trust local officials to keep our children safe.

Blocking states from warning other people, like farm workers, from the risks posed by pesticides, makes no sense either. At a time when pesticides are becoming more toxic, there is simply no reason to put our children or the people who feed us in greater peril.