Pest control products are important in the overall effort to protect the health and safety of children. Cockroaches, rats, head lice, mosquitoes, fire ants and even excessive weeds in playgrounds can pose a health and safety threat to children. Pesticides are used routinely, safely and in accordance to the label in integrated pest management (IPM) programs on farms, in homes, on playgrounds and sports fields and inside schools.
Pest control products are part of a responsible integrated pest management program. Individuals against the overall use of pesticides will claim IPM means no pesticides, but according to federal law, IPM is defined as, “a sustainable approach to managing pests by combining biological, cultural, physical and chemical tools in a way that minimizes economic health and environmental risks.”
The use of pest control products should be a local issue, decided by responsible school officials such as principals and administrators on a school-by-school and district-by-district case. Pest problems vary greatly among the 50 states and it’s unrealistic to think an IPM program that works in Florida will work in Maine. How can Washington, D.C. possibly impose and regulate a “one size fits all” program to protect children against pests?
Q: WHAT KINDS OF PESTS MIGHT BE FOUND IN A SCHOOL OR ON A PLAYGROUND?
A: Cockroaches, ants, wasps, head lice and rodents are the pests most commonly found in schools. And they do more than disrupt the learning environment, they pose serious health risks. Having the tools to rid these pests is part of the solution.
“Cockroaches, ants, wasps, head lice and rodents – the pests most commonly found in schools – do more than disrupt the learning environment. These pests pose serious health threats to children.” 
Q: HOW HARMFUL CAN A LITTLE BUG OR PEST REALLY BE?
A: Pests can provide very serious health consequences. Some examples are rodents which have been implicated in the spread of numerous diseases including Hantavirus, plague, acute food poisoning, rat-bite fever and typhus. Lyme disease – transmitted to humans through the deer tick – infects thousands of Americans each year and the numbers are on the rise. Cockroach droppings can trigger asthma. These prolific pests transmit a variety of digestive tract disorders, including food poisoning, dysentery and diarrhea. Here is some information on these “little” pests:
In a study of eight cities, the Johns Hopkins University scientists discovered that 95 percent of all homes in the study had mouse allergen in at least one room. 
The presence of mouse allergen can lead to big problems. Results of skin tests on asthmatic children in major U.S. cities have shown that up to 18% of them have sensitivity to mice and 20% to rats. ,  Rodents can also pose a danger by biting.
One public health official estimated that more than 45,000 persons are bitten by rats nationwide each year. 
Contrary to what people think, there are more deaths each year in the U.S. from bee and wasp stings than from snake bites.  Fire ants have increasingly become a problem as well. For example, in 1998, there were an estimated 660,000 cases of fire ant stings in South Carolina, of which approximately 33,000 sought medical treatment for an estimated cost of 2.4 million dollars. 
Fire ants are a growing health hazard. As many as 58 percent of a population living in infested areas are stung each year. Stings usually occur in the summer, most commonly in children and typically on the lower extremities. The fire ant gets its name from the immediate, intense burning and itching at the site of a sting. Almost everyone stung by a fire ant experiences some sort of a reaction to the venom, but 16 percent of people experience life-threatening reactions.
If traditional pesticides are not available to pest control personnel for the removal of wasp, ant, or bee nests in/around schools, then successful elimination of the nests -- and their associated health risks -- will be extremely difficult, if not impossible. Pesticides should be considered as important “public health tools” in the removal of such pests. Failure to have such tools available will ultimately lead to children being exposed to stinging insects.
Cockroaches are among the most significant residential, commercial, institutional, and industrial pests in the world today. Cockroaches adversely affect human health in several ways: they sometimes bite feebly, especially gnawing the fingernails of sleeping children; they contaminate food, imparting an unpleasant odor and taste; and they may transmit disease organisms mechanically on their body parts.  Additionally, exposure to cockroach allergen early in life may actually contribute to the development of asthma in susceptible children. 
Perhaps the pest garnering the most recent bad press is the mosquito. Mosquito-carried diseases include malaria, dengue. Mosquitoes are also the prime carriers of several types of encephalitis, a devastating illness that attacks the central nervous system of humans. West Nile virus is one of these encephalitis types.
By the end of 1999, the virus had caused encephalitis in 62 people and numerous horses in and around New York City, resulting in 7 human and 10 equine deaths. ,  The virus continued to spread in 2000, and now evidence of WNV has been found in at least 12 states and the District of Columbia. WNV will likely eventually occur throughout the United States.
According to Dr. Kimberly Thompson, a specialist in risk analysis at the Harvard University School of Public Health, people must remember that mosquitoes are more than annoying, they may also carry disease. She warns, “Mosquitoes pose a very real threat, and we must actively seek to prevent the spread of disease wherever and whenever we can. Parents and caretakers responsible for children and the elderly must be particularly vigilant.” For parents who may question the use of pesticides and repellents to control mosquitoes, Dr. Thompson has a pointed response: “I would be much more concerned about the potential diseases one can acquire through mosquito bites than the risks of properly applied pesticides. The comparison is one of real deaths today versus hypothetical disease sometime in the future.”
Q: WHY ARE CHILDREN CONSIDERED MORE VULNERABLE TO THE HEALTH PROBLEMS PESTS CAN CAUSE?
A: By nature of their size and because their immune systems are still developing, children are more vulnerable to insect-borne diseases. Because of their behavior, children are naturally exposed to the health and safety risks posed by pests – but at a higher rate than to adults. Whether at home or school, young children spend hours closer to the ground where they may be exposed to insects, rodents and poisonous plants. In addition, children tend to put objects in their mouths, providing another avenue for exposure to pests and their droppings. Also, since children haven’t been exposed to much, reactions can be more severe than in adults.
Q: OK, I CAN SEE PESTS ARE A PROBLEM, BUT WHAT ABOUT THE RISKS FROM CHILDREN NEAR PEST CONTROL PRODUCTS?
A: The nature of the application of these products means that children are not likely to come in contact with them. Typically, these products are applied in cracks and crevices. Weed control products may be applied around fence lines or on poison ivy or oak – an area where supervisors would not allow children. When pest control products are applied in schools according to label directions, exposure is safe and parents can be assured that their children are not at risk.
Q: WHY IS THERE CONCERN THAT PENDING LEGISLATION COULD BE HARMFUL TO CHILDREN?
A: The concern arises from the fact that if pest problems are not handled in an individual manner, children may be exposed to more harmful pests. Pest problems vary from state to state in public schools in America. A “one size fits all” program will not adequately protect children from these pests.
Schoolchildren and teachers will face higher risks of bites, infection and disease because this proposed legislation allows infestations to fester and grow rather than taking immediate, effective action. Instead, schools would have to wait 72 hours to take action, after parents are informed that effective pest protection products will be used.
Dr. Jerome Goddard, clinical assistant professor for preventative medicine, University of Mississippi Medical School notes, “The benefits of judicious use of pesticides far outweigh any risks and help slow down the threat [of disease-carrying vermin and pests] to public health. Consumers do not need to fear being around pesticides when products are used according to the label.”
Q: HOW CAN PEST CONTROL PRODUCTS BE A PART OF THE SOLUTION?
A: The use of pest control products can eradicate pests that spread disease to children. When used in a responsible pest management program, pest control products can help reduce the health and safety risks posed by pests in the home and school environment. Some individuals and groups advocate banning the use of pest control products, thus jeopardizing the health of our children. These products must be kept as a viable tool to protect against the bites, stings, allergic reactions and diseases caused by pests. If use is banned, schools and homes will not be safer.
The good news is that we can put a stop to some of these problems. Pest control is a matter of education, personal protection, sanitation and elimination.
“Pest control products are useful public health tools and an effort to restrict them should be well thought-out because of the risk of insect related disease problems,” states Dr. Jerome Goddard, clinical assistant professor for preventative medicine, University of Mississippi Medical School. He adds, “We need to realize that much of our current health and longevity is due to sanitation (clean water and proper sewage disposal),
advances in medicine, and pest control.”
Q: WHAT IS IPM?
A: IPM is an acronym for Integrated Pest Management. The legal definition of IPM, defined in federal law, is:
A sustainable approach to managing pests by combining biological, cultural, physical and chemical tools in a way that minimizes economic health and environmental risks.”
There are many ways to control pests. Methods include sanitation, structural repair and maintenance, watering and mowing practices, as well as a judicious use of pest control products. This balanced approach is one that will assure health and safety for children and adults. Pest control products shouldn’t be considered for emergency use only. An effective IPM program should prevent emergencies.
Q: HOW DO PEST CONTROL PRODUCTS FIT IN TO THE WHOLE IPM PROCESS?
A: Pest control products should be used routinely, safely and in accordance with the label in IPM programs throughout school systems. These products eliminate pests and pose no threat whatsoever to students.
“You cannot lead rodents or cockroaches out of a home, school or restaurant by playing a flute or by waving a meat cleaver. Management of pests requires an organized plan and often more than one tool or tactic. While pesticides are no panacea, when used responsibly and with discretion, they are invaluable tools in the fight against pests.” 
Sue Kamuda, of the Hinsdale Illinois School District 181 summed up the importance and efficiency of using and IPM program, “Many IPM techniques are just good maintenance practices that we should be employing anyway,” she said.
Q: WHAT ABOUT “LEAST TOXIC” PRODUCTS?
A: “Least toxic” pest protection products would be, in effect, less effective. Legislation is proposed that only “least toxic” pest protection products could be used without informing parents ahead of time. Pests must be controlled and eradicated in a timely manner to remove health threats to schoolchildren and teachers. Effective control comes only when the pesticide can eliminate the bug, plant, algae, fungus or other pest.
Q: HOW ARE PEST CONTROL PRODUCTS APPLIED?
A: Schoolchildren and teachers may not even come into contact with an applied pest control product. Typically pesticides are applied in cracks and crevices of walls and floors, and around the openings for water and heating lines to eliminate cockroaches, termites, ants and other insect pests. Other products might be used on poison ivy or other weeds growing along fence lines and other outdoor areas.
Again, this application should be done within an IPM program. A well designed IPM program can actually reduce pesticide use because the best first defense against disease-carrying insects and vermin and noxious weeds like poison oak and should always be building and ground maintenance sanitation.
Q: SHOULDN’T PARENTS BE INFORMED ABOUT THESE ISSUES?
A: Parents have the right to know that their children are safe and protected at school. Schools have a responsibility to provide safe schools and inform parents when health and safety concerns arise.
Under the proposed legislation, parents would be denied information about infection and disease risks from dangerous pests to their children. Instead, notices would explain potential health risks from pest control products – even though the EPA confirms the safety of these products with proper use.
Q: WHAT IF A PARENT WANTS TO KEEP CLOSE TABS ON THE USE OF THESE PRODUCTS IN THEIR CHILDREN’S SCHOOL?
A: All parents and adults responsible for children have a right to know how their children’s schools and play areas are being kept free of potentially harmful disease carrying pests and noxious weeds.
If parents and guardians wish to know about the use of pesticide products in their schools, they should be allowed to register to be notified. Many states already have a parent notification process in place.
Schools should not be forced to send four to six mailings to each parent for every routine pesticide application. There are approximately 47.6 million children being educated in U.S. public schools. Routinely sending letters to parents of those children ties up precious school resources.
Less than 2% of parents want to know if a pesticide application is going to occur. Why bother the 98% of parents with expensive information they do not need or want? It’s expensive and time consuming.
PEST CONTROL PRODUCTS – THE FACTS
Q: DO PEST CONTROL PRODUCTS POSE A DANGER TO CHILDREN’S HEALTH?
A: Pest control products do not pose a danger to the health of children, adults, animals or the environment when used according to label directions. These products protect against the dangers posed by pests.
Pest control products go through a rigorous screening process and extensive testing before they are ever available for use by consumers or professional applicators. The margin of safety for these products is extreme. One of the regulations the EPA places on the study of pest control products is NOEL. NOEL is an acronym for No Toxic Effect Level. Scientists record the highest tested dose with no effect. Then they divide the "no effect dose" by a "safety factor," usually 100, to provide a wide margin of safety for humans.
The mere presence of a trace amount of a pesticide does not mean the area is unhealthy. The fact that residues are found at all is only due to significant advances in analytical chemistry. While pest control product residue may be detected, the levels at which they are present fall far below the levels known to not cause any health effects.
Former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. C. Everett Koop put the unnecessary fear of pest control products in perspective.
“The risk of being killed by an automobile [one in 6,000] is much greater than any hypothetical risk of a pesticide,” said Koop.
Q: WHAT ABOUT INERT INGREDIENTS FOUND IN PEST CONTROL PRODUCTS?
A: Inert ingredients are what make a pest control product’s active ingredient effective. Inert ingredients allow the product to do such things as be sprayed or dissolve. Inert ingredients used in legally registered and approved end-use pesticide products go through rigorous testing, including tests for their acute oral toxicity, acute dermal toxicity, inhalation toxicity, dermal irritation, eye irritation and dermal sensitization. These ingredients are not listed on product labels because of their competitive advantage. By listing them, any company could make the same product. Pest control product manufacturers are not hiding anything by not listing inert ingredients – only protecting their investment in the product and their ability to sell the product. In the case of a medical emergency, doctors and nurses have instant access to the inert ingredients in a product.
Q: WHAT DOES THE GOVERNMENT DEMAND IN TERMS OF PRODUCT SAFETY?
A: Pesticides are one of the most regulated chemical products in the U.S. Several major organizations regulate the use of pesticides. These include the EPA, the FDA, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. There are more than 14 separate regulations governing the use of these products. All of these regulations are in place to help protect human health. 
More than 120 state-of-the-art rigorous tests for safety are performed before pest control products are approved for use not only in schools, but farms and households as well. This rigorous process takes eight to 10 years. On average, only one in 20,000 potential products ever makes it to the marketplace.
The weight of the scientific evidence clearly indicates that parents and consumers should feel confident about the use of pest control products to protect their children from pests.
The EPA is an integral part of monitoring pest control products. Proposed legislation would set up a national “citizens” board to do the EPA’s job of regulating pest control products for safety. The EPA should not be replaced by citizens.
Q: WHAT IS A PESTICIDE LABEL?
A: A pesticide label is a written legal document that accompanies each pest control product registered by the EPA only after an eight to 10 years safety testing and registration process. In addition to describing the product’s physical ingredients, the label specifies exactly what the product may be used for, the precise amounts to be applied and how.
Q: HOW IMPORTANT ARE THESE LABELS?
A: The EPA, along with other partners from industry, environmental groups and government agencies, launched a nationwide campaign last spring to encourage consumers to read the information on household product labels.
This "Read the Label FIRST!" campaign is part of the Consumer Labeling Initiative (CLI), an ongoing partnership to improve labels and help consumers purchase, use, and dispose of products more safely and responsibly. The campaign coincides with new, easier-to-read labels on many home pesticide and cleaning products now on store shelves.
Based on three years of national consumer research on how people read and use product labels, companies are voluntarily changing their labels to make them easier to read and understand. The new labels also present information in a clearer, more eye-catching way by putting key words and phrases in bulleted and boxed formats.
 American School & University Magazine, March 1999.
 Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, December 2000.
 Corrigan B: Mice just as important as roaches in allergy studies. Pest Control Technology Magazine (online), GIE Media, Cleveland, Ohio, February 7, 2001.
 Phipatanakul w, Eggleston PA, Wright EC, Wood RA: Mouse allergen. I. The prevalence of mouse allergen in inner city homes. J Allergy Clin Immunol 2000; 106: 1070-1074.
 Weber WJ: Diseases Transmitted by Rats and Mice. Fresno, California: Thomson Publications, 1982.
 Parrish HM: Analysis of 460 fatalities from venomous animals in the U.S. Am J Med Sci 1963; 245: 129-145.
 Caldwell ST, Schuman SH, Simpson WM: Fire ants: a continuing community health threat in South Carolina. J SC Med Assoc 1999; 95: 231-235.
 Goddard J: Infectious Diseases and Arthropods. Totowa, New Jersey: Humana Press, 2000.
 Litonjua AA, Carey VJ, Burge HA, Weiss ST, Gold DR: Exposure to cockroach allergen in the home is associated with incident doctor-diagnosed asthma and recurrent wheezing. J Allergy Clin Immunol 2001; 107: 41-47.
 CDC: Outbreak of West Nile-like viral encephalitis -- New York, 1999. MMWR, 48, 845-848, 1999.
 CDC: Update: West Nile virus encephalitis -- New York, 1999. MMWR, 48, 944-946, 1999.
 Dr. Michael F. Potter, professor and extension entomologist, University of Kentucky
 Alphabetical List of Health Topics, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS).