|Keith Rose, Pat Hopkins and Dalene Dutton (left to right) work closely together to ensure that the IPM program at Camden Hills Regional High School is observed. During the 2000-2001 academic year, pesticides were used only for one infestation of whitefly; the rest of the school, indoors and out, remained pesticide-free. English photo.|
By Jean English
“It’s all the little things … ”
“It was my mother who went snooping around,” says Camden resident Beedy Parker. Her mother, Pam Greenman, lives across the street from what used to be the middle and high school in Camden and is now just the middle school, since the district built a new high school in Rockport. “We were seeing little white signs on the turf area,” Beedy continues – signs indicating that pesticides had been applied. “I don’t think that they should use pesticides in the schools, and if they do, it’s got to be the right stuff, and people need to know it, and they need to keep people off, and people have to know that they’re taking one risk [exposure to pesticides] to address another risk [insects, weeds, etc.].”
Parker and other residents approached the school, suggesting an alternative approach to pest control, providing literature on nonchemical methods of control, and working with the school to institute an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Program. “We realized that we were allowing a company that had been taking care of our fields for years to do what they wanted without questioning it,” says school board member Meg Sideris. As a result of community interest, as well as a supportive school board, a proactive superintendent (then assistant superintendent), an energetic science teacher and an appreciative maintenance supervisor, the new Camden Hills Regional High School (serving Camden, Rockport, Lincolnville, Appleton and Hope) has a model IPM program that seems to please everyone, and routine pesticide applications are no longer made at other schools in Camden and Rockport, either.
“I received a couple of letters from community members concerned about some spraying of the elementary school athletic fields the previous years. I heard that some staff members and board members were also concerned,” explains superintendent Pat Hopkins. “So we put a stop to the spraying of pesticides, said we weren’t going to do it, and we would investigate alternative methods. About the same time, this new IPM plan came out, so I started pursuing this.” She holds the IPM training manual put together by state entomologist Kathy Murray and adds that the high school went through that training last summer. Operations and maintenance supervisor Keith Rose has a complimentary, but much thicker, manual that the EPA published.
Moving to the new high school simplified the job of switching from the calendar method of spraying to that of spraying as a last resort at that location. The building is clean, and systems (such as proper trash disposal) were in place to limit pests from the beginning. If ants were seen, for instance, the custodians would “look for the food source as a first step,” says science teacher Dalene Dutton, a powerful force behind the IPM program, “then trap with baits rather than spray.”
The new athletic fields were planted to a mix of grasses that are adapted to the area, tolerate traffic and resist pests, and the soil is aerated and kept fertile enough to promote healthy grass growth and discourage weeds and other pests. “The idea,” says Dutton, “is to keep the desired plants healthy and promote the environment in which they will thrive, and not the nitrogen-poor, compacted soil environment where your weeds will thrive. We monitor [the fields], and we’re also agreeing to tolerate a limited amount of weeds. If it’s not immaculate, it’s ok. If it’s dangerous or slippery or whatever, then you need to do something. We still haven’t decided hard and fast what the percentage of weeds will be for a certain area. It will be a group decision when we go out there. So, we’ll see in another four years where our playing fields are.” If a pesticide is necessary, the school recognizes that a licensed pesticide applicator must be hired.
“It’s really a matter of using common sense, a lot of the stuff, and not just jumping the gun,” Rose explains. “I was involved with the restaurant business for a number of years, and every month, whether we needed it or not, we had the little guy come in and spray all the way around … usually right about noontime! We don’t do that.”
Dutton was involved with the group of half a dozen or so people who met to draft the IPM policy to present to the school board – not just advocating IPM practices “but for other environmentally friendly practices that the district could adopt.” For example, in the school’s greenhouse, which Dutton oversees, “if we have a problem … I try to take care of it with mechanical means – squishing bugs, putting out the yellow stickies … If I can’t do that, then the notices go out and I report with Keith and we contract with the licensed applicator to use the least toxic thing to get the job done.” The only time a pesticide was used in the school this year was when whitefly-infested plants were being moved from one area into the new greenhouse. As the IPM policy dictates, written notices went out to students and parents before the application; the least toxic pesticide was used – by a licensed applicator; and the application was made late on a Friday so that as much time as possible passed before the students and staff returned.
Did the system work as it was designed to? “I spent a fair amount of time at the copy machine,” says Dutton, but “it’s not that burdensome.”
Asked what advice she would give to other school districts that want to implement similar programs, Dutton says, “It’s not as bad as they might think. The biggest part would be just to let them know it’s not as unmanageable as it would seem, but it does take some people who are dedicated to it; like keep checking and asking the janitors, ‘What is that? What are you using?’ It’s easy to lose it, those details and all of the other details that go on in a facility this size. And you really should review the policy yearly. Each district should have someone designated [to oversee the program]. Keith Rose is the official watchdog in this building, the maintenance supervisor, so they kind of all go to him. But he also comes to me. He’s great. He’s as dedicated to it as I am, so it’s wonderful.”
Dutton herself receives high marks for the success of the program. “She’s amazing,” says Sideris. “Dalene brought a lot of awareness to a lot of people on many levels. The awareness is the new, wonderful thing that we have. The administration is aware and checking; people know that some folks are more sensitive” than others to chemicals and other substances in the environment.
“It’s not a whole heck of a lot of time or aggravation,” adds Rose, “and we probably have saved money over using pesticides as a preventive measure. It’s all the little things that make this [pesticide application] not necessary.”
The program has gone well beyond seeking alternatives to pesticides. Regarding cleaning products, for instance, Dutton says, “We use things that are less toxic than other things that might be used, as a result of that kind of [IPM-type] thinking. That whole mindset kind of spills over into other areas.” For example, food scraps from the cafeteria are composted in two composting barrels in the greenhouse, “because it’s warm in there, so it cooks even in winter, and then we use it to pot seedlings.”
Dutton suggests that other school districts take the state training as a starting point. “I would call Kathy Murray,” says Hopkins.
Sideris says proponents of similar programs should try to be dispassionate. “I think people use pesticides because they’re not really well informed about the cost effectiveness of the choices. If you can show them the ease and benefit [of alternative methods], that you can maintain a field, that it won’t cost you any more, that the environment will benefit … that’s better than frightening people about the dire effects of pesticides.
“It would help,” adds Sideris, “to make available to the Department of Education a sample fact sheet of how to make different choices.” She suggests that the Department could distribute the fact sheet via its newsletter.
State entomologist Kathy Murray says that the Camden Hills program is the first she’s heard of that has a written plan and parental notification, but she says that the state’s IPM training program has been well received throughout Maine. She spoke at the Education Plant Managers’ Association meeting, for example, and Gary Fish from the Board of Pesticides Control staff had a table there. She held two workshops for indoor IPM for schools, and some 50 people representing many schools took the one in Portland and gave it very high ratings. After listening to an entertaining and knowledgeable speaker, the group toured a facility. “They really liked that,” says Murray. “Then we sent them out as teams, to the kitchen, the dumpsters … ” and the teams had to find problems and suggest solutions. A similar training is planned in Fort Fairfield in the fall, and Murray hopes to line up four or five other sites after that. Likewise, “We hope to start the turf IPM program again in the fall,” she says. This 3-hour program was presented at half of the state’s school districts last year.
Murray is excited about collaborating with a group of state employees called the Toxics Free Schools Group as well. “We’re making great strides,” she says, in working with the Department of Education to make sure that school management templates – which tell how to keep schools in shape – are designed to reduce the risk of asthma, exposure to pesticides, and other hazards.
The main holdups in switching schools to IPM methods, Murray continues, are the lack of awareness of alternatives and concerns about expenses. “We’re finding more and more schools have monthly spray programs” and that schools need to learn to question the need for such programs. “We still have quite a ways to go, but schools are receptive. We have the advantage of being in a northern climate,” which limits problems with such pests as cockroaches, for example.
Murray says that any school that wants to host a workshop or wants to be notified about trainings for indoor or outdoor pest control programs can call her at 287-7616, email her at [email protected], or check the website www.state.me.us/agriculture/schoolipm.
A hermit thrush sings outside Dutton’s science classroom as we wind up the interview. “Hear that?” she asks excitedly. “There are quite a few thrushes out here. I’ve heard the wood thrush and the hermit thrush. There’s a nest of ravens on the other side of the ballfields.” The benefits of an environmentally friendly school seem to extend beyond the students and staff.
Dutton as a Driving Force
Dalene Dutton, one of the driving forces behind the IPM program at Camden Hills Regional High School, is one of those small, energy-packed people who seems to be able to “do it all.” In addition to teaching botany, natural science and chemistry at the high school, Dutton is the mother of three, she and her family raise most of their own food, she is involved with school drama productions, the students’ EarthVision group, is a senior class advisor, and just finished her master’s degree in ecological teaching and learning. How does she do it all? “I had to give up my EMT and firefighting stuff,” she explains.
The Five Town CSD [Community School District] Integrated Pest Management Plan, below, is straightforward. But as science teacher Dalene Dutton says, the mindset behind the plan has spilled over into other aspects of running the school. Environmentally sound cleaning products are used, for instance, and food waste from the cafeteria is composted.
Structural and landscape pests can pose significant problems to people, property, and the environment. Pesticides can also pose risks to people, property, and the environment. It is therefore the policy of the Five Town CSD to incorporate Integrated Pest Management (IPM) procedures for control of structural and landscape pests.
An Integrated Pest Management Plan is structured to be an effective and environmentally sensitive approach to pest management. The most current, comprehensive information on the life cycles of pests and their interactions with the environment is essential in managing pests through economical means with the least possible hazard to people, property, and the environment.
Integrated Pest Management procedures will determine when to control pests and whether to use mechanical, physical, chemical, cultural, or biological means. The means will depend on current, comprehensive information on the pest and its environment and the best available pest control methods. Applying IPM principles prevents unacceptable levels of pest activity and damage by the most economical means and with the least possible hazard to people, property, and the environment.
The choice of using a pesticide will be based on a review of all other available options and a determination that these options are not acceptable or are not feasible. The full range of alternatives, including no action, will be considered. If it is determined that a pesticide must be used in order to meet management goals, the least
hazardous material will be chosen. The application of pesticides is subject to the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (7 US Code 136 et seq.), the Environmental Protection Agency regulations in 40 Code of Federal Regulations, Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations, state and local regulations, and any Five Town CSD applicable policies.
Staff, students, and the public will be informed about potential school pest problems and the policies and procedures to be used to achieve the desired pest management objectives.
Records of pesticide use shall be maintained on site to meet the requirements of state, local, and Five Town CSD regulations. In addition, pest surveillance data sheets that record the number of pests or other indicators of pest populations are to be maintained to verify the need for treatment.
Five Town CSD takes the responsibility to notify staff and students of upcoming pesticides treatments. Notices will be posted in designated areas at school and notices sent home to parents.
Pesticide Storage and Purchase
Pesticide purchases will be limited to the amount authorized for use during the year. Storage and disposal will be in accordance with the EPA-registered label directions and any state and local regulations. Pesticides will be stored in an appropriate, secure site not accessible to students or any unauthorized personnel.
Maine law requires anyone applying pesticides in schools to be licensed as a commercial applicator through the Board of Pesticides Control.