Activists: Children At Risk From Pesticides

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Hartford Courant - April 19, 2007

Proposed Legislation Would Expand Ban On Use Of Chemicals On School Fields

A lawn or playing field treated with chemical pesticides is like a grass "rug on drugs" that endangers children's health, Dr. Jerome Silbert, a pathologist turned environmental activist said Wednesday at a news conference intended to build support for legislation that would ban pesticides from school grounds.

Children face greater risk from the pesticides because they are still growing and because they have lower body weights and higher respiratory rates than adults, Silbert said.

Speaking on a busy day at the Legislative Office Building, Silbert was joined by other medical experts, as well as representatives of environmental groups, the Connecticut Parent Teacher Association, the Connecticut Nurses Association and sponsors of two different pesticide bills.

Together they would extend an existing pesticide ban - which now applies only to elementary schools - to middle schools and high schools. Connecticut is the only state to have such a ban, Silbert said.

State Sen. Edward Meyer, D-Guilford, a sponsor of one of the bills, said they are opposed mainly by the pesticide industry and groundskeepers who doubt the effectiveness of organic substitutes.

Meyer praised Silbert and Nancy Alderman, a well-known Connecticut environmentalist, for raising awareness of the pesticide dangers. "This is the Bible," Meyer said, holding up "Risks from Lawn-Care Pesticides," a 2003 report published by Alderman's nonprofit Environment and Human Health organization.

Dr. Robert LaCamera, a professor of pediatrics at the Yale School of Medicine, also held up the report when asked which cancers are associated with chemical pesticides. He read off a list: childhood leukemia, soft tissue sarcomas, cancers of the brain and testes, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

LaCamera cited a 1997 Minnesota study that found pesticide traces in more than 90 percent of urine samples taken from children between 3 and 13 years old.

"If you can find detectable levels in urine it means it's almost universal," he said. Many practicing pediatricians "don't understand there is an epidemic of pesticides in the bodies of most children in this country."

Alderman said the proposed bills allow a three-year transition period for school playing fields to be "weaned" off chemical pesticides.

Bill Duesing, Connecticut director of the Northeast Organic Farming Association, said the underlying soil needs to be restored in fields treated with chemicals. "A good analogy is to put some money into rehab rather than spend a lifetime buying drugs," he said.

The news conference was called by Silbert's organization, The Watershed Partnership, and the Coalition for a Safe and Healthy Connecticut.

Also Wednesday, one of the coalition members, the Toxics Action Center, published a new report giving a town-by-town listing of the hundreds of hazardous waste and pollution sites in Connecticut.

Sylvia Broude, an author of the report, said it is intended to alert residents to toxic dangers near them and so they can take action to protect themselves. One section of the 45-page report warns about pesticides.

The full report, including newly detailed maps of hazardous sites, can be accessed at www.toxicsaction.org.

Contact Joel Lang at jlang@courant.com.
Copyright 2007, Hartford Courant