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Schools Adopt Strategies To Minimize Use Of Pesticides

University of Wisconsin-Extension/Madison specialists are helping schools adapt a strategy farmers use to control weeds and bugs with a minimal amount of chemicals.

The strategy is called Integrated Pest Management (IPM). Last year, six Wisconsin schools participated in the project as pilot sites, working with IMP specialist Karen Delahaut, turfgrass specialist John Stier, and entomologist Phil Pelletteri of Extension.

Farmers who follow IPM practices use pesticides only as a last line of defense. Instead of routine spraying, they use cultivation to control weeds, select plant varieties that are resistant to disease, and use biological controls against insects. A key component of the strategy is assessing how serious the threat is before taking action.

A school IMP project follows the same philosophy – monitor pest problems and try to control problems without chemicals whenever possible.

The pilots were conducted in Lloyd Street Global Education School and 21st Street Elementary, Milwaukee; Delong Middle School, in Eau Claire; Montello Schools, Montello; St Patrick”s School, Mauston; and Ashwaubenon High School, Ashwaubenon. Another 14 schools also participated, using a school IPM manual, but without personal visits by the Extension specialists.

The project grew out of concerns raised by parents after a 1998 Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection survey reported that 90 percent of about 1,000 schools responding used pesticides to control weeds or insects in and around school buildings.

“As we started working on the project, we found that many schools already use some IMP practices and tried to use pesticides only when absolutely necessary. But we also found that many schools were very interested in going further,” Delahaut said.

During a series of three on-site visits, the University specialists assessed the school and grounds and made recommendations for ways the school could reduce use of pesticides.

“IPM relies on close monitoring of pest situations to determine whether the populations are changing and whether control measures should be initiated,” Delahaut explained. She said management strategies such as trapping rodents, caulking windows to seal out invading insects, keeping food preparation and lunch rooms clean, or fertilizing and irrigating turf to reduce weed populations, are given priority over chemical alternatives.

“Pesticides are used only when necessary and only in their least toxic forms in an IPM program,” she said.

The project, which will expand to twenty-five schools in 2000, is a joint project of UW-Extension and DATCP, and was designed to create an alternative to a complete ban on use of pesticides in schools.

“It”s important to weigh the relative risks,” she said. “Pesticides may be correlated with an increase in asthma or allergic reactions in sensitive individuals, but an uncontrolled cockroach population can also trigger severe allergic reactions. Herbicides may be linked with endocrine and immune system disorders. But weedy athletic fields can compromise footing, resulting in injuries and possible permanent disabilities.”

The specialists will receive applications from schools that wish to participate next year. More information is available from Delahaut at 608-262-6429.