San Francisco Independent Media Center, April 3, 2006


The Precautionary Principle and Parents' Right-to-Know Los Angeles Unified School District Shares Its Secret of Success

[Rachel's introduction: It started with a worried Mom whose child got sprayed by accident with pesticides at school. Parents organized. They discovered the precautionary principle and decided Los Angeles schools could adopt it. After a long fight, in 1999 the nation's second-largest school district began taking a precautionary approach to pest management.]

by Robina Suwol**

Toluca Lake, Calif. -- Last week in Los Angeles environmentalists, parents, health advocates, and educators met before the Los Angeles Unified School Board to praise the efforts of the 2nd largest school district in the nation for working cooperatively with California Safe Schools (CSS), a children's environmental health organization, in creating the most protective pesticide policy for schools in the country.

The week long tribute to the policy ended on Saturday as parents,students, and community members, some coming from as far away as Sacramento, were treated to an innovative and interactive IPM Workshop at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Speakers included Caltech Microbiologist, Mitzi Shpak, Robert Hamm, Deputy Director of Los Angeles Unified Maintenance Operations, and Robina Suwol, Executive Director of California Safe Schools

The Integrated Pest Management Program (IPM) began after children were inadvertently sprayed with an herbicide at Sherman Oaks Elementary School in 1998. The sustained success of this program is a point of pride for students, parents, and school administrators alike, all of whom worked together to implement the reform.

"Creating the first policy in the United States that embraced the Precautionary Principle and Parents Right to Know was groundbreaking. To see it so beautifully implemented and sustained is deeply gratifying," said Robina Suwol, founder and Executive Director of CSS.

IPM requires the use of methods to control pests and weeds that pose the lowest risk to human health. Because children are more sensitive to chemical exposures than are adults, IPM in schools is considered to be especially important to protect kids' health. The "precautionary principle," is the idea that if the consequences of an action are unknown, but are judged to have some potential for major or irreversible negative consequences, then it is better to avoid that action. Parents Right to Know, is the value that parents should be informed of any exposure to toxins their children may face while in the care of school administrators.

Dr. Cathie-Ann Lippman, a Beverly Hills physician who is actively involved with the implementation of the innovative pesticide policy congratulated the School Board, "Thank you for the courage to create this opportunity to improve the health of our community. With this common focus, working together, anything is possible -- including providing a healthy learning environment for our children, their children, and generations to come."

California Safe Schools is the only non-profit organization exclusively dedicated to protecting school children from pesticides in California. A coalition of more than fifty organizations and many individuals, CSS lead a successful campaign to implement the safest pesticide policy ever adopted in the United States protecting 800,000 children in the nation's second-largest school district.

Gloria Simosky, Florence Avenue Teacher added, "As the teacher representative on the IPM Team, I appreciate IPM's focus on reducing and eliminating toxic chemicals from the school site. IPM is a wonderful program that works to support the health of students and teachers. "

This policy has become a national model for schools and communities. A year after its policy breakthrough, CSS provided testimony and support for the California Healthy Schools Act 2000. This state law provided for education to schools by the Department of Pesticide Regulation for Integrated Pest Management (IPM), a "least-toxic" pest control policy, and Right to Know about pesticide exposure for every parent whose child attends public school K -- 12. Most recently, CSS successfully shepherded the passage of AB 405 (Montanez), which forbids the use of experimental pesticides on all California k-12 public school sites.

Robina Suwol 818-785-5515 Box 2756 Toluca Lake, California 91610

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