Oak Harbor School District attacks pests

In response to an Environmental Protection Agency investigation into the illegal dumping of a pesticide on Oak Harbor School District property, school officials are coming up with a new plan.

For the past six months a committee of district officials, employees and environmental watchdogs has developed a new plan of pest control that tries not to use pesticides.

Called Integrated Pest Management, the plan will put into policy environmentally-friendly methods of weed, insect, fungus and rodent control.

The first line of defense will not use pesticides at all, but if that doesn’t work, the next step is to use the least toxic pesticides that will do the job.

This isn’t only good for the environment, activists stress, but more importantly, good for the children.

“This policy considers children’s greater vulnerability to the hazards of pesticides. No high-hazard pesticide will be used in Oak Harbor School District,” said Cheryl Holzmeyer, the healthy schools campaign coordinator for a non-profit group called Washington Toxics Coalition.

Holzmeyer is a member of the IPM Planning Group, which presented a first-reading of the new policy and procedure to the Oak Harbor School District Board of Directors at its regular meeting Monday evening.

Heading the effort to put together the group, which met bi-weekly for the past six months, was Kathy Chalfant, newly-elected school board member. Chalfant owns and operates her own landscape maintenance business and is familiar with pest control.

“I think with using this (new policy) it actually calls for a site plan at each site, and the places will start to look better,” Chalfant said. “It can look good and be healthy.”

Last January the EPA was alerted to the illegal dumping of the pesticide Dursban on school district grounds by grounds maintenance employees. Former district employee Michael Zuercher reported that about 600 pounds of the toxic substance was illegally dumped in a dirt hole adjacent to the bus barn located near the corner of Midway Boulevard and Whidbey Avenue An ensuing investigation confirmed the allegation.

Zuercher also contacted the Whidbey Environmental Action Network, which was then instrumental in the district coming up with the new IPM policy and procedures.

“We found it necessary to create this committee to make sure this never happened again,” said Marianne Edain of WEAN, also a planning group member.

The school board voted unanimously to accept the first reading of the new policy, with instructions for a minor revision in policy language. The new draft will come before the board at a future meeting.

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