Parents win compromise on pesticides House panel OKs bill to make schools warn of applying chemicals

Health effects are concern

Proposal would resolve long-debated issue of need for notification

March 31, 1998|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Parents who want to be informed before pesticides are applied in their children's schools won a qualified victory yesterday as a House of Delegates committee approved a compromise version of a notification bill.

The House Environmental Affairs Committee, where such bills had died the three previous sessions, approved a consensus bill by a 12-4 vote and sent the bill to the House floor, where it received preliminary approval last night.

The compromise seeks to resolve an issue that has pitted the Maryland PTA, Maryland State Teachers Association and environmentalists against local school systems and the chemical industry.

For parents and teachers, the issue involves concerns that indoor pesticide applications at schools can cause serious health problems for chemically sensitive individuals.

But local school boards don't like being told what to do by the General Assembly and are concerned about the expense of the notifications. And chemical companies don't like the implication that their products could be unsafe.

Del. Leon G. Billings, a committee member who helped negotiate the compromise, said the issue had been around so many years that delegates of both parties finally decided to step in and resolve it.

"Like any compromise, it's got its good points and its bad points," said the Montgomery County Democrat.

Billings said delegates took a bill introduced by Del. J. Anita Stup, a Frederick County Republican, and wove in elements of a measure sponsored by Del. Joan B. Pitkin, a Prince George's County Democrat.

Under the bill he and Stup fashioned, Billings said, administrators would have to notify all parents of elementary hTC school children about plans to apply pesticides and the possible side effects of the chemicals.

The measure drops universal notification in middle and secondary schools and requires only that administrators of these schools publicize their plans within the schools and only notify certain parents who request notification. It also tells schools to adopt plans to minimize the use of pesticides.

Ruth Berlin, an Annapolis psychotherapist who is coordinator for the Maryland Pesticide Network, said the bill "feels like a workable compromise for all parties concerned."

"Elementary schools will be in a sense the test case," said Berlin, who said her 12-year-old son nearly died after being exposed to pesticides in school when he was 10.

But Susan Buswell, executive director of the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, said her group had not been a party to the compromise and didn't know whether it could work.

She said she didn't know whether the amended bill was something local school systems could support.

Billings said the school boards had "marginalized themselves" in the debate by resisting state action, while doing little to deal with the problem at the local level.

If the bill wins final passage in the House, its highest remaining hurdle could be the calendar. The Senate has generally been more receptive to environmental legislation, but the bill would be coming to it late in the session -- when even popular bills can get caught in a time crunch.

"It's certainly got a chance," said Sen. Brian E. Frosh, a Montgomery County Democrat and the Senate's leading expert on environmental issues. "Without seeing the bill, it's hard to predict."

Pub Date: 3/31/98

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