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Successfully Embracing the Precautionary Principle & Right to Know

by California Safe Schools Sunday, Jul. 29, 2012 at 10:44 PM 818-785-5515 Los Angeles, California

Children spend nearly one-third of their lives at school—what should be a safe space for learning and growing. However, with the best intentions, many school districts use large amounts of chemicals with serious health concerns, instead of opting for lower-risk alternative methods.

The Los Angeles Unified School District, 2nd largest in the nation, celebrated the 13th-year Anniversary of their groundbreaking Integrated Pest Management (IPM) policy. The successful policy was the first in the United States to embrace the Precautionary Principle & Right to Know about pesticides used on school campuses.

The policy was spearheaded in 1998 by California Safe Schools (CSS), a celebrated children’s environmental health and environmental justice coalition founded by Robina Suwol, following an incident when her sons, ages six and nine, along with other elementary school students, were accidently sprayed with pesticides by a LA Unified school gardener in a hazardous material suit as they entered Sherman Oaks Elementary school. Suwol’s youngest son Nicholas, who was six years old at the time, and whose asthma was under control, suffered a severe asthma attack as a result of the pesticide exposure.

Nicholas fortunately recovered, and with no litigious motives, Suwol formed California Safe Schools, and worked with the Los Angeles Unified to create a more protective policy.

One year to the day that Nicholas became ill, Los Angeles Unified adopted the most protective IPM policy in the nation for schools. Today, the policy has become a national and international model for school districts and communities. In addition to embracing the Precautionary Principle & Right to Know, the policy includes ongoing training for staff, and a fifteen member oversight committee that meets monthly to ensure implementation.

The Executive Director of the Del Amo Action Committee and Los Angeles Environmental Justice Network Cynthia Babich added, “I know too well the effects of the environment on human health, and was pleased to be able to serve on the LAUSD IPM Oversight Committee. I wish other school districts would adopt similar protective policies"

The success of the groundbreaking policy led to California Legislation, Healthy Schools Act 2000. On October 6, 2005, Governor Schwarzenegger signed AB 405 (Montanez) sponsored by California Safe Schools. The bill bans experimental pesticides, whose health effects are unknown from California k-12 public schools.

“California Safe Schools believes children and adults have a right to learn, work and live in a healthy environment. We look forward to continuing our work for decades to come, and thank everyone at the district who implement the policy, and the hundreds of thousands of supporters who include parents, students, teachers, staff, and children’s health advocates. When we work together great things can, and do happen”, said Robina Suwol, Founder and Executive Director of California Safe Schools.

The preamble to the Los Angeles Unified Integrated Policy states: "Pesticides pose risks to human health and the environment, with special risks to children. It is recognized that pesticides cause adverse health effects in humans such as cancer, neurological disruption, birth defects, genetic alteration, reproductive harm, immune system dysfunction, endocrine disruption and acute poisoning. Pests will be controlled to protect the health and safety of students and staff, maintain a productive learning environment and maintain the integrity of school buildings and grounds. Pesticides will not be used to control pests for aesthetic reasons alone. The safety and health of students, staff and the environment will be paramount."

“Thank you California Safe Schools for being on the leading edge of protecting children’s environmental health", said Jay Feldman Founder & Executive Director of Beyond Pesticides in Washington D.C.

Children spend nearly one-third of their lives at school—what should be a safe space for learning and growing. However, with the best intentions, many school districts use large amounts of chemicals with serious health concerns, instead of opting for lower-risk alternative methods.

"Congratulations California Safe Schools and Los Angeles Unified for creating and sustaining a successful program for thirteen years", said Shabaka Heru, Executive Director of Society for Positive Action and member of the LA Unified IPM Oversight Committee.

“Children absorb more toxins relative to body weight than adults, and their developing brains, organs, nervous systems and immune systems may be more vulnerable to toxins. Studies increasingly show how toxic chemicals harm the body even at low doses, as in parts per trillion, and the more often a child is exposed to chemicals, the greater the chance of harm,” added Suwol.

"Congratulations and Happy Anniversary, California Safe Schools and Los Angeles Unified School District for developing and implementing this groundbreaking pesticide policy. Thank you for protecting our children from highly toxic chemicals!” added Mary Cordaro, President of Mary Cordaro Inc.: Healthy building and indoor air quality consulting, Los Angeles.

For further information:
California Safe Schools – Phone: 818-785-5515 Website:
IPM Policy:

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