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May 25, 2004 - Lack Of Disclosure in Massachusetts Schools

An audit recently found many schools and child-care centers have not disclosed the frequency and timing of the use of pesticides in violation of Massachusetts state law.

Very few of the state's 2,500 schools, both public and private, had failed to detail their use of pesticides.  In fact Auditor A. Joseph DeNucci said yesterday that more than 70 percent of schools and more than 90 percent of child-care centers had failed to disclose necessary information. In addition, the audit said that the state Pesticide Bureau of the Department of Agricultural Resources has struggled to enforce the law.

"There is no assurance that children, staff, and the public are being properly protected from unnecessary exposure to pesticides," DeNucci said in a statement. DeNucci noted that since the law took effect in 2000, the agriculture department's budget has been slashed 35 percent. Only nine fines have been levied against schools for failing to file paperwork. Schools can face fines of $1,000 for each day they do not comply.

Included in the report must be the reason for the spraying, the method of parental notification, and the identity of the licensed pest manager contracted to spray.

Massachusetts is only one of several states nationwide that has begun studying he link between children's health and pesticides. The suspicion is that the poisons may cause cancer and other illnesses.

Douglas Gillespie, agriculture commissioner, cites budget cutbacks and the resulting lack of personnel (inspections staff has dropped in a decade from 12 to four people) for the oversight. The state has 8,000 pesticide applicators who require licensing and investigation.

"We made it easy for them to complete the plans," Gillespie said. In the past two months, since the audit was completed, 136 additional schools sent in plans, he said.  Still, he said, his staff mailed four reminders to each school. Along with regular mail, schools could also file plans by e-mail through the department's website, at www.state.ma.us/dfa/cpa/index.htm. The website also tracks which schools are in compliance.

"I think . . . probably the most effective tool we have is parents approaching their school and saying, `How come we're not on the list?' " Gillespie said.

If schools are not fulfilling government requirements, it may be because they do not have the resources to do so, said Paul Schlichtman, chairman of the Arlington School Committee. The town has had to slash its budget in recent years. Only one Arlington public school registered its pest plan, according to the agriculture department's website.

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