‘Pesticides + Schools = Bad combination’

María Arevalos has a simple message for parents and school officials: “Pesticides and schools are a bad combination,” she said in Spanish. “It’s something that should not happen.”

She knows from experience. She believes pesticides sprayed on school grounds once sickened her 8-year-old son, Eduardo, who has asthma. She recalled one day, when her son went to school feeling fine, and returned with nausea and no appetite.

“There is no other possibility,” said Arevalos, a member of the Fresno-based community group Latinos United for Clean Air, who has participated in pesticide awareness trainings in Sacramento and Salinas.

Arevalos spoke about the use of pesticides in schools during the group’s Clean Air, Healthy Family summit at Yokomi Elementary School May 11.

During her presentation, she encouraged parents school officials to place a greater emphasis on integrated pest management – a more healthy form of pest control that uses common sense and simple science to address pest problems, like mulching, controlling weeds, and sealing cracks.

When integrated pest management doesn’t solve the problem, she said, pesticides should be sprayed only when children are not on campus – either after the school, or on the weekend.

Arevalos’ concerns are more than the worries of an informed parent.

According to the recent report “Green Schools Within Reach,” 40 percent of reporting school districts in California continue to use the most dangerous, high-exposure methods for treating weeds and ant problems, despite the passage of the Healthy Schools Act of 2000.

Exposure to pesticides can have serious consequences for growing children. Nationwide, children ages 6-11 have the highest levels of pesticides in their bodies, compared to any other age category, according to the report, which was authored by Pesticide Watch Education Fund, Center For Environmental Health, and Californians for Pesticide Reform.

Child pesticide exposure has been linked to learning disabilities, asthma, cancer, and other serious health effects.

Photos by Héctor Navejas, Vida en el Valle.

This week in the Valley: Sick, sick air

Not only is it hot, hot, hot this week, the air quality is also really, really, really unhealthy.

What does that mean?

For Fresno resident María Arevalo, a member of the community group Latinos United for Clean Air, it means trouble for her children – two out of four whom have asthma.

“The air quality is really bad,” she told me. “They are not doing their regular activities this week.”

The unhealthy levels of ozone – caused by both the summer-like hot days, and the Sheep Fire in Kings Canyon National Park and Sequoia National Forest – is bad news for families across the San Joaquín Valley, and especially those people with asthma. According to the California Health Interview Study (CHIS,) 16.5 percent of people in the San Joaquín Valley have been diagnosed with asthma.

Poor air quality can have myriad impacts on community healthy, said Elizabeth Jonasson, campaign and outreach associate for the Coalition for Clean Air.

  • That bad air quality means children with asthma, and adults with a history of heart attacks, are at risk of having an attack, she said.
  • It means increased hospital visits, she said. (According to a 2005 CHIS survey, 19.9 percent of Valley asthmatics visited the emergency room or urgent care facility for asthma within the past 12 months.)
  • And it means a loss of productivity for adults who suffer from asthma, chronic bronchitis, or other lung diseases, or for adults who must take care of children with these conditions. (According to a 2005 CHIS survey, 8.8 percent of Valley adults have missed 1-10 days of work due to asthma in the past 12 months.)

To keep up with the Valley’s daily air quality forecast, call the SMOG-INFO line at 1-800-766-4463. Click here to get the daily air quality forecast.

To learn about the small changes you can make to help improve air quality in the Valley, watch this video: