2005 EPA PEST Award
July 22, 2005
National IPM Award Brings Hope for Growth
Writer: Janet Gregg, (972) 952-9232, j-gregg@tamu-edu
Contact: Janet Hurley, 972-952-9213, JAHurley.EXTERNAL.internet
A small group of scientists and educators at Texas A&M University is banking on some national recognition to spread their message of how to rid schools of vermin and unwanted pests. Since 2001 the Southwest Center for Integrated Pest Management (IPM), a statewide program based at the Texas A&M University’s Dallas extension center, has been helping schools battle everything from bats and bull nettles to fire ants and fleas.
“No one wants to hear their school has cockroaches or rats running through classrooms and cafeterias,” said Dr. Mike Merchant, Professor & Extension Urban Entomologist with Texas Cooperative Extension, and one of the Center’s founders. “Yet this is what can happen when school employees aren’t trained in how to recognize and safely control pests.
On July 15th the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency recognized the Center’s accomplishments with a Pesticide Environmental Stewardship Program Champion award. The EPA recognition focused on the program’s efforts to help schools manage pests using fewer and safer pesticides.
“Going to Washington and hearing what other people are doing reminds us that we’ve got one of the best programs in the country,” said Merchant. Merchant, along with Janet Hurley, the school IPM program coordinator, call the award validation for their four-year-old program.
“Since opening our doors in 2001, we’ve trained or assisted over one-third of the school districts in Texas. We’ve helped some districts save thousands of dollars on pesticides and sometimes avoid costly fines,” Hurley said.
Texas has one of the toughest laws in the nation when it comes to pesticide use in public school buildings. Since 1995 all schools are supposed to follow IPM practices. But many schools didn’t know where to start until the Center came along.
According to Hurley the center’s mission from the beginning has been to offer technical assistance and resources to school districts and child care facilities to implement their IPM programs. Since then she has crisscrossed the state spreading a gospel that says schools can control pests with fewer pesticides. In addition to her travels, Hurley stays in touch with the districts and provides continuing assistance through a website and bi-monthly e-newsletter.
Merchant admits that pests in schools are not one of the big issues that keep parents and administrators awake at night. But when pest problems do occur, or when there’s a pesticide spill, it can quickly become a headline. “Our center tries to keep schools out of the headlines,” he said. “This award is especially sweet because we’re often under the radar and not a high profile organization. “
One example of the program’s success is the Carrollton/Farmers Branch school district. When the IPM center began working with the district in 2002, she said there were a lot of teacher complaints and a heavy pest presence in some of the older school buildings. But the district was receptive to changing the way they were doing things.
“That made all the difference,” Hurley said. “With our help, they took over their own pest control program. Complaints from teachers dropped dramatically and pesticide use decreased. Now both teachers and principals are happy.”
In addition to working with Texas schools and child care facilities, Hurley has worked with New Mexico, Oklahoma and Arkansas. “We have national recognition because of Texas’s strong law and willingness to enforce it. “Other states have laws, but schools rarely get punished for ignoring requirements,” Hurley said. Thirty states have some form of school IPM requirements on the books, according to Hurley.
Texas’ School IPM Law is largely an unfunded legislative mandate. The state has never provided extra dollars for enforcement or training schools in how to implement IPM. This makes the work of the Center even more critical.
Both Hurley and Merchant hope winning the award will boost the program’s visibility and lead to more stable funding. “I think the award gives more credibility to our program and we would like to be more credible, especially amongst our state legislators and university administrators, so that they can see the importance of this program. We are a small, struggling organization and we rely on grant dollars to make ends meet and keep the program growing. We hope the recognition helps us in our quest for more stable funding,” Merchant said.
Other projects the Center is working on include working with school districts to clean up their lab chemicals, improve school indoor air quality, and provide IPM training to child care businesses and hospitals.
Texas boasts the second largest public school population in the country with 4.3 million children attending 1039 school districts. Every school district in the state is required to have a trained IPM program coordinator. For more information about Texas’s school pest management programs, see the IPM center’s website at http://schoolipm.tamu.edu .