Nancy Lefenfeld was picking up her two children at Thunder Hill Elementary School last spring when she saw students running across schoolgrounds that had been posted with yellow "Caution! Pesticide Application" signs.
As a result, the PTA Council of Howard County will ask the school board tomorrow to investigate alternatives to herbicidesnow used to kill grass and weeds on school grounds areas that mowerscannot reach. The board is scheduled to meet at 4 p.m. at the Department of Education, 10910 Route 108.
And the PTA at Thunder Hill Elementary School, responding to Lefenfeld's concerns, is asking school officials not to spray school grounds for the rest of this year and the 1992-1993 school year. In return, parent volunteers will keep the grounds trimmed.
"We may be outthere with Weed Eaters," Lefenfeld said.
Two of the three chemicals used by the county school system, Gallery and Roundup, are classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as suspected cancer-causing agents. Information was unavailable on the third chemical, Surflan A.S.
The classification means a chemical is "essentially a suspect to be a carcinogenic agent. It isn't declared to be," said Eugene Wilson, acting product manager for herbicides at EPA's Crystal City, Va., branch. "You can't do an estimate of the risk because you're not sure it is (a carcinogen) based on the data, but there is enough data to suspect it is."
Wilson said the manufacturer of Roundup isprotesting the classification and arguing that the chemical should not be listed even as a suspected carcinogen.
If school officials agree to suspend spraying at Thunder Hill, a PTA committee will work with Assistant Grounds Manager Paul D. O'Meara to have parents and possibly students trim areas such as building perimeters and along fences and backstops where mowers cannot reach.
Lefenfeld said her own children, a first-grader and a fifth-grader, have not suffered allergic reactions to the herbicides. She began investigating herbicide spraying at county schools in January, and has since heard reports of four children who suffered allergic reactions to the chemicals.
The PTA Council lent its weight to the request for alternatives after Lefenfeld and Thunder Hill council delegate Nancy Terrill asked for countywide help at the March 2 council meeting. One parent reported that her son had suffered a severe allergic reaction on his legs after playing on a ball diamond that had been sprayed.
O'Meara said the grounds maintenance staff "is trying to use the safest products in the safest way" to control weeds, grass and insects. Crews spray at each school twice a year, in the spring with a herbicide applied before seeds germinate and again in the summer to kill grasses and weeds that have begun growing.
He said the only risk in the chemicals used on weeds and grass on county school grounds would be to an allergic person who touches the grass while it is wet. School rules call for students to remain indoors during the one-hour drying time.
O'Meara said school officials have had reports of allergic reactions to pesticides used on school grounds, but said he did not believe any had been conclusively traced to the chemicals. Ronald A. Miller, safety and insurance specialist with the county school system, could not be reachedfor additional information.