New law requires better planning for elimination of rodents and insects in schools

A new Oregon law is putting renewed focus on ensuring that pesticides are used as a last resort for eliminating pests in schools. The Lake Oswego School Board approved the required integrated pest management plan at its meeting July 11.

“In large respects, this isn’t a big change for us,” finance director Stuart Ketzler said. “They are more explicit in terms of what type of pesticides you can use. That doesn’t really change our practices because we don’t use some of the really high toxic type of pesticides that ... homeowners might use to kill certain rodents.”

Pests such as mice, rats and cockroaches are health concerns for children. While some pests carry diseases, others can trigger asthma. Some children are also allergic to yellow jacket stings.

However, the pesticides used to remove these pests from school properties can also be a health concern for children, whose bodies are still developing.

Oregon State University provided assistance to public and private K-12 schools across the state in writing up integrated pest management plans.

IPMs focus on eliminating the conditions — such as a torn window screen or crumbs under a microwave — that attract or let in pests such as mice or yellow jackets.

The goal is to reduce pests, decrease the use of pesticides, cut costs for schools and create a healthier environment for students and staff members, said Tim Stock, a faculty member with the OSU Extension Service.

To help draw up his model plans, Stock surveyed Oregon’s 197 school districts in 2010 and received responses from 184. Twenty-six said they already had adopted IPMs. His survey found that 104 districts reported mice as one of their top three pests.

Stock intends to survey districts again next year to measure their progress in implementing IPMs and help refine his program’s outreach.

The new plans include layers of oversight, communication and education that will help to encourage staff and faculty behaviors that prevent pests from becoming a problem.

Per a requirement of the law, the school district appointed Tana Stewart, facility director, as its IPM coordinator. The law requires a designated person to spend six hours each year learning about IPM principles and the law itself.

Teachers, custodians, cooks and grounds crews will also have a role in monitoring and inspecting buildings and grounds to detect pests. There will be inspection sheets provided to assist with where and when to monitor.

Some appropriate methods of pest control include: rodent traps, sticky monitoring traps for insects, door sweeps on external doors, sealing holes under sinks, proper drainage and mulching of landscapes, and keeping vegetation at least 24 inches from buildings.

Low-impact pesticides must be a part of a pre-approved list and cannot be labeled “Danger” or listed with the federal Environmental Protection Agency as a probable human carcinogen. The district is still working on developing its list.

The district must keep records of pesticide use and post warning signs around areas where pesticides will be applied, which is probably the biggest difference from the school district’s current practices, Ketzler said.

Posting a sign at least 24 hours in advance of an application will delay the district’s response to pests.

“We’ll just have to plan a little better and ask people to be a little patient, too,” he said.

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