Working Toward Environmental Justice
It is a statistical fact that most people who live, work, and play in America’s most polluted environments are in marginalized communities with few resources. These groups are regularly exposed to deteriorating schools and substandard housing (containing lead paint, asbestos, and mold). Their neighborhoods are often located near industrial facilities and polluting infrastructures such as highways, that lead to higher rates of exposure to toxic pollutants such as lead, arsenic, pesticides, and other poisons in schoolyards, parks and playgrounds.
As a result, low-income communities and individuals experience increased exposure to environmental hazards and suffer disproportionately from environmentally related diseases. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has estimated that African-American children are three times more likely than white children to be hospitalized for asthma and asthma-related conditions and are four to six times more likely to die from asthma.
From its inception in 1994, Midwest Pesticide Action Center has been involved in addressing environmental justice issues as they relate to pesticide exposure and the negative impacts on children.
A History of Success
Midwest Pesticide Action Center won a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 2008 Environmental Justice Achievement Award for our groundbreaking work with childcare facilities. Our work leading up to this award included:
- Coalition building with organizations and agencies charged with licensing and inspecting childcare facilities for compliance as well as licensed childcare providers.
- Free training to caregivers on how to provide safer, more effective pest control while providing a more healthful learning environment.
- Additional awareness training and policy development for inspectors, licensing agents, and continuing education providers in order to ensure the enforcement of applicable Integrated Pest Management laws.
Our efforts have resulted in great success. As of June 2013, 82% of childcare facilities have indicated they are in compliance with state law requiring licensed childcare centers and public schools to implement Integrated Pest Management for least-toxic pest control and to notify parents and staff prior to sprayed or dusted pesticide applications in facilities or on their grounds.
Pesticide-Free Childcare Coalition in Illinois
However, there are a large number of licensed childcare centers in Illinois in violation of the law. Additionally, many childcare centers and public schools may be compliant on paper, but remain in clear violation of the law in practice.
For example, four students were sent to the hospital last year after their “compliant” school sprayed herbicides in an interior courtyard during school hours.
To address these problems, Midwest Pesticide Action Center, with funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, established the Pesticide-Free Childcares Coalition that will work to:
- Help childcare facilities understand the health risks of pesticide exposure and to find solutions to increase compliance with Illinois Integrated Pest Management law.
- Target childcare centers in at-risk communities, which serve approximately 7,500 infants and children, to reduce the use of toxic chemicals.
For More Information
Resource Guide for Integrated Pest Management in School and Childcares: For information on implementing an Integrated Pest Management program at your school or childcare facility. Learn More
Activist’s Toolkit: For information on advocating for healthy spaces in your community. Learn More
Children’s Health: For understanding the risks pesticides pose to children’s health. Learn More
In Your Community: For tips on how to make positive change in your community. Learn More
Photo courtesy of Paul Dailing