Pesticide Spray by School

We have a situation where our K-6 school is in close proximity to agricultural activity, primarily the spraying of pesticides(atrazine) on corn fields. Parents are organizing a group to convince the local farmers of the need of a buffer zone around the school. My question is what role can the school board play in all of this? To some point, it is felt that it is an issue that should be dealt with thru the select board and that the school board has no authority or jurisdiction to enter the fray, so to speak. Any experience with this?

  1. I’d suggest that the School Board should at least weigh in with the Select board. While they may not have direct jurisdiction over the farmer, I¹d reckon that a push from them would be helpful and certainly be appreciated by the concerned parents. Before the Board did this, however, it would be important to make sure that the concern about the proximity issue is reasonable. Any local experts on this?

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  2. This is none of the school’s business!

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  3. I agree that this issue belongs to the Select Board and not the School Board.

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  4. I would contact the health department and determine risk. If none, no action.

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  5. I have no experience with this type of situation. I do agree it is on the Select Boards plate. However, I think the school board’s role should be to be an advocate for the school children. Or support the Supervisory Union or District Office in that role.

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  6. One preliminary question would be the source of the school’s water. If Atrazine is getting or could get into the school’s water supply the Board may have jurisdiction to act (just as a homeowner would if a neighbor polluted the homeowner’s well). A consulting hydrologist might be able to advise re underground water flow. Testing the water might be advisable, under the guidance of a professional who knows Atrazine’s half-life, etc. The School Board has at least the power to raise the question with the State, as anyone would. By the way, Atrazine (a herbicide rather than a pesticide) is controversial, especially as regards its effects as an endocrine disrupter. The EU banned it in 2004. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atrazine

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  7. I certainly think that the health of the students is school board business. I would start with the Health Dept., the Ag Dept., and the manufacturer of the chemicals applied. Frequently there are setbacks for applications from homes, water sources, etc. I would suggest to the parents that having a single contact with the farmer would be the preferable route. There is nothing that will tick off someone more than a big production/petition, etc. If after you gather your information, there is something to be concerned about, see if someone on the Select board or perhaps a parent who is a member of the farming community that can approach the farmer in a non-confrontational way. Friendly is best.

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  8. This is an issue, that should be handled at both the Select board level, as well as the school board level. I am in hopes, that both the boards work together like in our town, and NOT against each other. You have a safety issue with students, that needs to be addressed by the school board, and an issue of public safety, that needs to be addressed by the Select board. Having said that, I need more information to be able to answer any further.

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  9. Before a board, school or select, does anything else it should do it’s homework. Atrazine is not a pesticide, it is a herbicide. That doesn’t make the chemical any less dangerous, but the argument against using it will be less convincing if the facts aren’t accurate right from the beginning.

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  10. Stay out of this as it not under the traditional role of a school board in my opinion.

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  11. The first thing to do would be to have a discussion with the farmer concerning spraying frequencies, times, etc in a non threatening way. If one was approached in a polite and professional fashion so as to minimize the impact of spraying one would think the farmer would play ball. If one approached the situation in a way that appeared adversarial to the farmer that could develop as a problem. School Boards would have a role in this discussion, in my view point, as the students and faculty are their responsibility. If nothing else the School Board might head off the citizens group and indicate that the Board or a representative of the Board would speak with the farmer. An elected body like the Board that understands the value of orderly participation in affairs and knows the value of establishing a process could be much more effective in the communication than a group of parents that could get very emotional. If the School Board felt the Select Board might be more effective in the communication it is quite likely they would be permitted to have a role.

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  12. I believe this should be resolved through Zoning/Select Board. I think the School Board members could voice their opinions as citizens but the School Board should not be involved. I think a bad precedent would be set if the School Board were to try to exercise authority beyond the boundaries of the District’s assets (the only exception would be field trips/school functions off premises).

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  13. As stated this is an Acceptable Agricultural Practice done by a licensed person. Another point I would like make is anyone of these concerned parents can go to their local hardware store and purchase a can of Round-up (which is a herbicide as well) and spray it around their home without being regulated or licensed.

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  14. In my opinion, this type of issue is best dealt with by the school board. The school board has as much authority as a group of parents to deal with a problem such as this and since it has to do with student safety in the school building (or playground), it is definitely the responsibility of the school board to follow up on this. If this happened in our town, I would ask the parents to come to the school board and articulate their concern and position. I would then gather the facts on the chemical and get a government agency such as the State Board of Health to give you a recommendation on how you should proceed. You don’t necessarily want the State getting after this farmer, but they should have some guidelines as to the appropriate use of this chemical adjacent to a school. Then with the proper information, the school board should approach the farmer with its concerns. Hopefully, if you have facts to back you up, the farmer will help out, if not then you the route of bringing in a government agency.

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  15. I am a school board member and environmental consultant…as to question #1, in my opinion, environmental issues are within the jurisdiction of the board. However the board should rely on sound science (versus emotional responses) in making any decisions or response actions….if I were on this school board I would first look to the state for guidance on this issue, perhaps first by calling the Department of Environmental Conservation in Waterbury. A willing school board member can certainly can get “up to speed” on environmental issues by on-line research (I would suggest using EPA sites or respected sources); here is a good place to start:

    http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/

    Bottom line: environmental exposures are a board concern but let the science dictate your responses…

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  16. It seems wise to first determine if the air and water on school grounds are actually being affected by the activities on the adjacent property. Testing the water should be easy enough. I’m not sure how one actually tests the air. If there is an inexpensive way to test the air on school grounds for the particular chemicals known to be used next door, then that should be done. The school should be careful to consider other possible sources of contamination as well. (For instance, exhaust fumes in the parking lot may be just as detrimental as the fumes coming from next door.) Once a determination has been made, then perhaps the School Board can work with the neighbor and Select Board to create a solution to the problem. Actual risk to students is the first thing that must be determined. If the neighbor can be convinced that the students are actually being affected by their spraying (as opposed to merely having parents up in arms b/c there might be a risk), then that neighbor may be more willing to work cooperatively with the school to solve the problem. Something as simple as a vegetative buffer and considerate spraying times may (or may not) alleviate most of the problems.

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  17. I’m more than a little amazed that people who are school board members here — clearly have not read the laws on responsibilities and duties of school board members. This is not within the school board responsibilities. The Chair should relay the concern to the state. After that, let Vermont Farmers – farm as the law allows.

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  18. I will start this response by stating that I am a Certified Pesticide Applicator (and a school board member). I do commercial applications working directly with dairy farmers across the state. I have and will continue to spray herbicide/pesticide on fields that are adjacent to school property. With that said, I/we try to do our best to spray these field after school hours when children are not present. It does not always work out that way, but that is our goal. We are very heavily regulated by the state and the fed. They have imposed rules to protect the people, fish, water and neighboring land. Each and every herbicide/pesticide has a specific and unique label. This label regulates that herbicide specifically. This label is registered with the EPA and they have approved and regulated the use of the herbicide/pesticide. I think all too often people let emotion drive the discussion. I can understand that every parent fears for the safety of there children and as a parent I understand that. I will also tell you I can not count the number of times that I am spraying and or loading my spray truck, when a parent drives over on a 4 wheeler with there child riding with them without a helmet on or they drive over in the family car, low and behold no seat belt or very simply walk over to talk and have there child riding a bicycle without a helmet. The people always want to know what I am doing, what I am applying and if is safe. They apparently do not view there own behavior as risky? I would simply encourage you to call the VT Agency of Ag ask to speak to Jim Leland. He would be the correct person within The Agency to help you with your concerns specific to your situation. He can also tell you what the law states and help you to interpret it. He may also be willing to act as a “friendly” mediator between the board and the farmer. The one thing I think you need to keep in mind is that the farmer is trying only to do his/her part in feeding the world.

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  19. RESPONSE FROM THE USDA (Marybeth Whitten, Soil Conservationist NRCS, Newport VT, marybeth.whitten@vt.usda.gov): Pesticide application is monitored out of the State Agency of Agriculture. If the farmer is applying his own he has had to take a class to become licensed to do so. Most farmers have the pesticides custom applied and these applicator are normally very careful with the buffer requirements it is their license on the line. Each pesticide begin applied have there own set backs. For example Atrizine requires at least a 66ft set back from open water. A lot of farms in Vermont have a pesticide management plan that they follow.

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