Parents Concerned by Pesticides, Chemicals Used at Schools

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WOODLAND -- School campuses are presumed to be a safe place for children, but a group of parents says that isn't necessarily the case.

A group called the Woodland Coalition for Green Schools formed this fall after new carpet was installed at Beamer Elementary School without being aired out -- a process called off-gassing. The group says that's only the tip of the iceberg for what toxic chemicals and cleaning agents are being used without the knowledge of parents.

"Severe stomach cramps, headaches, emotional disturbance," said Liza Grandia with the Woodland Coalition for Green Schools.

Grandia's 7-year-old daughter wasn't the only student at Beamer Elementary who experienced a variety of symptoms that she says were a reaction to the 44 toxic chemicals found in new carpet. She says the carpets were not aired out, a procedure that would safeguard small children who play close to the ground.

“They have different behavior than adults ... that hand to mouth gesture that can greatly increase the absorption of chemicals," Grandia said.

Grandia discovered that the carpet industry regulates itself but leaves out testing for dozens of potentially hazardous chemicals.

Then came an automated call that school food prep areas would be sprayed with a pesticide that was later identified as bifenthren.

“It’s one of those chemicals that have been removed from the market in the European Union as a carcinogen, the EPA has identified it as a possible carcinogen, but it has been approved for use in homes and schools," Grandia said.

That’s causing a huge concern: What is safe and what is not?

Grandia is an anthropology professor at UC Davis studying the effects of industrial toxins on Native American populations.

While it’s difficult to figure out which public agency oversees which chemical and even how much is dangerous, Grandia says that parents must at least be alerted to what is being used in schools and when.

“If there’s a child in the classroom that has lice, every parent in the classroom gets a letter that same day. Why is the district not willing to notify the parents the pesticides being sprayed?" Grandia asked.

The group also discovered that unlike at other districts, teacher’s weren’t even notified.

“...because they’re sentinels, they could know this area is being sprayed and keep the children away," she said.

District officials did meet with the coalition and agreed to remove the carpet from several classrooms and replace them with a linoleum product. It says it’s open to safe alternatives.

The district also says they have a notification process in place wthat may need tweaking

“We do have set practices, but sometimes parents request more information," said Kallie Lutz, spokesperson for the Woodland Joint Unified School District.

The coalition also wants a list of chemicals used on campuses including cleaning products and substances like paints that release volatile organic substances, something the district says is a tall order.  But it hasn’t ruled out the request.

“We want to make sure people feel comfortable sending their kids to school, that’s the most important thing, and that we provide a safe environment," Lutz said.

The coalition says it wants to keep the pressure on, including asking for an environmental expert to sift through the latest studies on thousands of chemicals used in schools.

"One would assume the school district would have someone in facilities management doing this kind of thing, environmental checks and safeguards for children, but they don’t," Grandia said.

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