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Pesticide law compliance lags in area

Five years after laws were passed to protect children from pesticides, 70 percent of day care centers and almost 30 percent of schools, including many north of Boston, are not complying with all or part of the law, state records show.

Public schools in Lynn, Middleton, and Saugus have not complied, while schools in Danvers, Melrose, Everett, and Amesbury are in partial compliance, according to the records.

Under the Child Protection Act of 2000, schools and day care centers must file ''integrated pest management" plans that detail the infestation problems they have and steps taken indoors and outdoors to control them. An earlier law imposed the same regulations on farms and restaurants.

The state will begin writing letters and paying visits as part of a campaign to encourage educators and day care providers to take the law more seriously.

''Our plan is to do some correspondence with day care centers and add enforcement personnel," said Kent Lage, assistant director of the state Department of Agricultural Resources, the agency charged with enforcing the Child Protection Act of 2000.

''The act does allow for fines," Lage added. ''But, [the enforcers] will go out in an effort to help educate and provide incentive through a variety of means. Ultimately, we need to reach out in some way to those people not in compliance." Dozens of day care centers north of Boston also have yet to comply with the law, and they are of particular concern, Lage said.

''Our focus is going to be day care centers," he said. ''But our effort is to try and get all schools and day care centers in compliance."

Lage said the state is pleased with recent improvements in public school compliance.

In Danvers schools, the biggest problems are bees and ants, according to partial plans filed with the state this year. But cockroaches, rats, and mice are also a problem in some buildings, the plans said.

Those plans also detail school staff requirements to report pest sightings, administration requirements to keep logs accordingly, and district requirements to call in exterminators when needed.

It may sound like a lot of work, but Danvers health inspector Mark Carleo said it's worth it. ''You're talking about poisons that are coming close to our children," he said. ''There is no doubt that this needs to be done."

Still, it took Danvers almost five years after the act was passed to start filing pest management plans for its schools. That was largely because the town's Public Works Department, which handles school maintenance, was poorly suited for the job, so it was turned over to the Health Department, Carleo said. Danvers has yet to file outdoor pest management plans for some campuses, but those are being prepared, he said.

Danvers was not alone in filing its pest management plans late. Most communities north of Boston and throughout the state filed their first plans this year, when the state allowed them to do it via the Internet.

Salisbury School District, which has had problems with bees, wasps, rats, mice, and ants at Salisbury Elementary School, also filed its first pest management plans this year. It would have done so sooner, grounds manager Chris Walsh said, but it believed the responsibility lay with the district's pest management company.

The law, which went into effect Nov. 1, 2000, gave districts and day care centers a year to file their plan. As of Oct. 1, 72 percent were in full compliance, 18 percent were in partial compliance, and the rest were in noncompliance.

The figures were worse for day care centers: 56 percent were in noncompliance and 10 percent were in partial compliance. These will be in line for state enforcement efforts, Lage said. The state estimated that dozens of day care centers north of Boston are not in compliance, but incomplete records make it difficult to determine the exact number.

Lage's agency has $100,000 in extra state funding this year to undertake outreach and hire new enforcement staff. The act carries a provision for $10,000-a-day penalties for noncompliance, but the state will not likely be assessing any fines, Lage said. Instead, officials will focus on education.

For day care centers, the problem is more economics than education, said Ann Nunes, president of the Massachusetts Independent Child Care Organization. Public schools are publicly funded, while day care centers are heavily regulated private businesses. Those regulations cost a lot of money, Nunes said.

''A lot of child care centers, like mine, are family-owned programs," she said. ''There are so many other hoops that the state puts us through that it's very overwhelming to run day care these days. There is only so much that the state can expect you to comply with before you're completely overwhelmed with regulations."

Nunes said she filed the necessary state paperwork for each of the three day care centers she owns in the North Dartmouth area. The same plan applies to each of her centers, she said, and the extra paperwork took time out of her already tight schedule. ''The state would get better compliance if they would make it easier to comply," Nunes said. ''When you're a business owner, you look at bottom-line costs, and boy does the state add to my administrative costs every chance they can get."

Infestation problems may vary, Lage said, and separate plans are needed for each. ''We didn't write the law. The Legislature passed the law as it is," he said. ''If integrated pest management for each building is a requirement of the law, then day care centers need to take that into account with the rates they provide."

There is more to the Child Protection Act than paperwork, Lage said. The pest management plans help state health experts monitor pesticide applications in school districts and day care centers with an eye toward minimizing the poisons Massachusetts children are being exposed to, Lage said. ''That's one of the bedrocks of integrated pest management," Lage said. ''You only treat for the pests you have and no more."

To find information about the pest management plans at your school or day care center, go to the following link. (Some day care centers may not be on the list.):

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