Keeping child care centers safe with integrated pest management techniques
With the early childhood eating habits of toddlers and young children, it is no surprise that preschools and child care centers often have problems with ants and cockroaches. Schools for the state’s youngest residents may also have concerns about black widow spiders, yellow jackets, mosquitos, rodents and other pests.
Many of the centers respond to the problem with pesticide sprays and foggers that could expose children and staff to residues on surfaces and in the air, a 2010 survey by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation revealed.
California’s Healthy Schools Act requires DPR to collect information about pesticide use and pest management in child care centers. The 2010 survey found that 55 percent of child care facilities use pesticides and 47 percent use foggers. One in five of the centers scheduled pesticide applications on a weekly or monthly basis, a strategy that is not recommended because applications may take place even when no pests are present.
The Healthy Schools Act also requires DPR to develop programs that encourage the facilities to voluntarily adopt integrated pest management practices, which emphasize pest monitoring, exclusion and safe treatment.
To help meet this requirement, DPR funded a Pest Management Alliance - including UC San Francisco’s School of Nursing, UC Berkeley’s Center for Children’s Environmental Research and the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program - to develop a comprehensive pest management curriculum and outreach materials. The information is designed to help the centers minimize the risk of pesticide exposure and increase their use of safer pest management alternatives. This team created a detailed checklist that preschool directors can use to identify pest problems and find safe solutions, a 39-page curriculum, and four laminated posters:
- Steps to a pest-free indoor environment
- Steps to a pest-free outdoor environment
- How to choose a safer pesticide to manage pests, with pictures of the best products to use and those that should be avoided
- Clearly illustrated instructions for reading a pesticide label
The curriculum, which is available in English and Spanish, also includes 10 “health and safety” notes that detail pest problems and IPM strategies specific to common pests, plus a health and safety note that explains “green cleaning.”
The IPM strategy for ants, which pose the most common childcare center pest problem, begins with, “Don’t spray!”
“Spraying pesticides may kill ants, but spraying will expose staff and children to harmful chemicals and doesn’t eliminate ants in their nests,” the document says. “Pesticide residues can build up indoors where children spend a lot of time.”
Instead, users are advised to keep ants out by caulking cracks around foundations, removing plants and mulch that are within 12 inches of building foundations and removing ants’ food, water and shelter opportunities inside the facility. If other action must be taken to control the pest, IPM suggests the use of baits, not sprays, and as a last resort, hiring a pest management professional.
The curriculum can be downloaded for free from UCSF’s California Childcare Health Program website, http://www.ucsfchildcarehealth.org.
IPM techniques make child care centers a safer place for children.