A Survey of California Public School Districts' Ant and Weed Management Practices and a Review of Their Use of IPM

Article excerpt


School employees and children face the health risk of exposure to pesticides in the school environment (Alarcon et al., 2005; National Research Council, 1993). California passed the Healthy Schools Act of 2000 (HSA, 2000) to provide staff, teachers, and parents with information about pesticide use and encourage integrated pest management (IPM) in schools.

The HSA establishes right-to-know requirements (e.g., notification, registry, posting, and record keeping) for pesticide use in public schools and requires all districts to designate an IPM coordinator. The law also directs the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) to collect certain pesticide-use information from schools, conduct IPM training workshops, and support schools in their IPM efforts by providing a Web site and outreach information.

The HSA aims to reduce exposure to pesticides in schools by encouraging districts to voluntarily adopt IPM. IPM is a decision-making approach to managing pests that the law defines as preventing and suppressing pest problems using a combination of pest population monitoring, establishing pest-damage thresholds, and using cultural and mechanical practices. Pesticides that pose the least possible hazard to human health and the environment are used only after careful monitoring and pest-damage thresholds indicate their use is necessary.

Researchers have surveyed school districts' pest management practices in several states such as Indiana (Gibb & Fournier, 2006), Nebraska (Ogg, Ogg, Hygnstrom, Campbell, & Haws, 2003), New York (Braband, Horn, & Sahr, 2002), North Carolina (Williams, Linker, Waldvogel, Leidy, & Schal, 2005), and Tennessee (Vail, 2001). Researchers also have published baseline and follow-up surveys that describe changes in school districts' pest management practices and IPM use (Nalyana & Linker, 2006; Surgan, Enck, & Yu, 2000).

In California, DPR conducts the only statewide surveys to evaluate how public schools are implementing IPM. DPR conducted its first survey in 2001 (Babb, Hawkins, & Tootelian, 2002). Analysis of the 2001 survey responses led to clarifications in the 2002 survey and additional questions about ant and weed management practices (Geiger & Tootelian, 2005). The 2004 survey was further modified for clarity and to collect additional information about the respondent's role as designated IPM coordinator.

The 2004 and previous surveys had several objectives (Barnes & Sutherland, 2005)--this article focuses on two: (1) measuring use of various ant and weed management practices, and (2) measuring changes in those practices relative to prior surveys. This article focuses on management of ants and weeds from the 2004 survey because, in prior years, these were the most widely reported pest problems in California schools.



In April 2004, surveys were mailed to IPM coordinators at all (972) school districts statewide. Follow-up mailings via e-mail and regular mail occurred in July and August, respectively, to improve the survey's response rate. The 2001, 2002, and 2004 surveys were conducted similarly. The survey contained 24 questions grouped into four sections. The first section covered general pest management practices and the last section captured information about the respondent. The focus of this article is the two middle sections that covered ant management inside school buildings and weed management on school grounds.

The two sections of interest asked whether a district did anything to manage ants (or weeds) within the last 12 months, which specific practices were used, and how effective these practices were. Both sections asked how a district decided when treatment for ants (or weeds) was necessary and which one practice the district used most frequently to manage ants (or weeds). The weed management section also asked districts to indicate the location where they had the most trouble with weeds. …