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UGA Program Reducing Pesticides in Schools

For years, Paul Guillebeau has taught pest-control companies and farmers how to reduce pesticide risks. Now he's turning his attention to Georgia schools."There has been an increased effort to reduce children's pesticide risks nationwide," said Guillebeau, Integrated Pest Management coordinator for the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. "Other states have IPM programs with their school systems. We thought it was time Georgia joined them."

With a $40,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Pesticide Environmental Stewardship Program, Guillebeau and his staff developed an IPM program for Georgia schools.

It Started With a Survey

The first step was writing a pesticide usage survey, which was distributed to all Georgia schools, public and private. This was done with the help of the Georgia School Superintendents Association and Georgia Association of Educational Leaders.

"We needed to find out what the schools' major pests are," he said.

The survey fingered rodents, roaches, ants and head lice as the biggest pests. It also found that a few Georgia schools try to control pests themselves, but most rely on pest control companies.

Working Together to Reduce Pesticide Risks

When a school system expresses interest in the program, Guillebeau and the county agent schedule a site visit. "We sit down with the school and their pest control company and discuss the school's program," he said.

"A lot of schools had the idea that if they were paying a company $5,000, it's their job to control the pests," he said. "They don't realize the role the school's sanitation and maintenance staff plays in their pest problems."

At the same time, many companies were not aware of alternatives to spraying pesticides. "Pest control companies can still make the same amount of money, do a good job and reduce the amount of pesticides they use," Guillebeau said.

The pest control companies support the program. UGA is partnered with the Georgia Pest Control Association, and Guillebeau is now a member of their "IPM in Schools" committee.

Killing Roaches and Spraying Less

Just updating school roach control programs has greatly reduced pesticide usage. Five years ago, Guillebeau said, the standard program was to spray the whole school once a month.

"They did this whether or not there were signs of roaches," he said. "Excellent roach baits are now available that have much, much lower toxicity levels and are just as effective as sprays. And schools are realizing that just because they have roaches in the lunchroom, doesn't mean the whole school needs to be treated."

Guillebeau said the worst incident he uncovered involved roaches and chewing gum in an elementary school cafeteria.

"The school was performing their own pest control and having roach problems in their lunchroom eating areas," he said. "They studied the area and found large amounts of chewing gum stuck to the bottoms of the tables. This was attracting the roaches."

Instead of scraping the gum off of the tables, the staff sprayed the bottoms of the tables with a pesticide. "It's not a far stretch of the imagination that an elementary school kid could get some of that gum off there and pop it back in his mouth," Guillebeau said.

This horror story is one of the reasons Guillebeau is fighting to see UGA's "IPM for Schools" program implemented in all Georgia schools.

Spreading the Word Across Georgia

So far, Guillebeau has worked with schools in 23 Georgia counties. But he hopes schools will jump on the bandwagon as they hear about the program. The next phase is to begin working with Georgia day care centers.

"I have no doubt that we're going to be successful," he said. "It's just going to take some time. It's not that there are a lot of new discoveries or that we've had a sudden vision. We're just getting schools and pest control companies to work together to do the right things."

(Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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