Pesticide use in or near U.S. schools sickened more than 2,500 children and school employees over a five-year period, and though most illnesses were mild, their numbers have increased, a nationwide report found.
Sources include chemicals to kill insects and weeds on school grounds, disinfectants, and farming pesticides that drift over nearby schools, according to the report by researchers at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and their colleagues.
Lead author Dr. Walter Alarcon said one of the largest recent incidents occurred in May when about 600 students and staff members were evacuated from an Edinburg, Texas, elementary school after pesticides sprayed on a cotton field drifted into the school's air conditioning system. About 30 students and nine staffers developed mild symptoms including nausea and headaches.
The study, which appears in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association, covered events from 1998 to 2002 — none as big as the Texas incident, Alarcon said.
Most of the illnesses were in children. The number of children affected each year climbed from 59 to 104 among preschoolers and from 225 to 333 among children aged 6 to 17.
"I don't think we want to overwhelm people, but the study does provide evidence that using pesticides at schools is not innocuous and that there are better ways to use pesticides," said study co-author Dr. Geoffrey Calvert.
Claire Barnett of the Healthy Schools Network advocacy group said the total is likely a "deep undercount" because there are about 54 million U.S. schoolchildren and yet no comprehensive national tracking system.