Friday, August 17 , 2018, 4:29 pm | A Few Clouds 76º


Parents Air Concerns Over Use of Wrong Pesticide at Santa Barbara Schools

Students have reported strong, foul smells, as well as suffering headaches and nausea

After a contractor used the wrong pesticide on four campuses this August, the Santa Barbara Unified School District conducted remediation and sent out a letter to parents.

That’s not enough for one parent group, whose members aired concerns at Tuesday night’s Board of Education meeting.

Parents for Excellence in Public Schools is the same group that pursued air quality testing at Washington Elementary School because of concerns about water damage and mold in the portable classrooms.

In this case, a contractor was tasked to apply pesticide to control the squirrel and gopher problems at La Colina Junior High, La Cumbre Junior High, Monroe Elementary, Open Alternative School and Alta Vista High School, but the district learned that the wrong kind — zinc phosphide — was used. Traps and other mechanical measures had already failed, according to the district.

It was used on turf fields and in some planter areas, such as La Colina’s quad, on Aug. 14.

The error was reported to the county, which recommended remediation for the quad area, Superintendent Dave Cash said in a statement Tuesday night. 

Pellets were vacuumed and disposed of off-campus, and the area was covered in mulch. He said the agricultural commissioner and state Department of Pesticide Regulation confirmed that there are no pellets left or health hazard posed.

There has been speculation about a foul smell at La Colina on Sept. 17, but the cause was attributed to a “faulty gas regulator,” he said. Southern California Gas Co. was called out and replaced it, without any risk to students or staff, Cash said.

The district also sent a letter to parents, written by facilities director David Hetyonk, which said that any health hazard would depend on the level of exposure. Since the pesticide was applied two weeks before the start of school, it’s likely that all pellets already got wet from irrigation and released their phosphine gas, he wrote.

Parents are concerned about student exposure and believe the district undersold the potential danger in the letter.

Students have reported a strong garlic-like or rotting-fruit-like smell — followed by headaches and nausea — in multiple rooms on La Colina’s campus, according to parent Dr. David Shapiro said.

The parent letter makes no mention of the smell, and PEPS members expressed concern that it could be related to the pesticide.

Shapiro wrote a list of demands and concerns to the Board of Education as well, asking for more expert analysis and remediation and investigation of the mistake.

“In the past, use of less qualified experts and technicians has led to extra costs for the district, potentially extra liability exposure, and potentially extra harm to children and staff,” Shapiro wrote. “PEPS is concerned that ZP potentially on the athletic field won’t even be addressed and that the subcontractor, who didn’t even know ZP was being used, is being ask to remember where the ZP was placed in order to locate it for remediation.”

PEPS also wants the district to send out another parent letter.

Dr. Janette Hope said this particular pesticide can be highly toxic and have latent symptoms in people, including nausea and respiratory issues.

Hope, who specializes in environmental medicine, said many students reported the smells past the date the district did remediation.

“I’m not confident the issue is addressed and resolved,” she said. “We will not send our daughter (to school) until this issue is resolved.”

The school board can’t discuss the issue since it wasn’t on the agenda, but board president Monique Limon thanked the parents for bringing it to their attention.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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