Pittsburgh School District Elevated to 'Star' Status

Pittsburgh School District Elevated to 'Star' Status

The Pittsburgh School District recently became the fifth school district in the nation and the first in Pennsylvania to become IPM STAR certified by the IPM Institute of North America in recognition of its school integrated pest management program.

IPM STAR certification is a rigorous process that includes an on-site inspection by an independent professional trained in integrated pest management, or IPM. IPM is a kid-safe, economical and scientific, step-wise approach to pest management. IPM integrates knowledge of pest identity and biology with pest monitoring so that actions, if any, can be taken at just the right time. In addition, IPM uses a combination of management tactics such as biological, cultural, physical and chemical that is more likely to be safe and effective. Emphasis is placed on prevention of problems by eliminating conditions conducive to pest entry and survival, with pesticide use as a last resort.

To become IPM STAR certified, the inspector examines the history of pest problems, the condition of buildings and grounds as well as any pesticides used in the past year. The school must have an IPM program in place to guide administrators and staff as they respond to pest issues, including preventing and avoiding problems before they occur. The certification process for the Pittsburgh School District was conducted by Dr. Thomas Green, president of the IPM Institute of North America, an IPM research and education non-profit based in Madison, Wisconsin. "We're very pleased that Pittsburgh Public Schools has undertaken this process, both to improve their IPM program and increase the visibility of IPM as a great alternative for anyone who has to deal with pest problems," states Green.

"IPM meshes well with other important goals of school maintenance and administration professionals, such as energy conservation, food safety and security," Green says, pointing out that preventative tactics such as repairing window screens and vent filters, keeping food serving and storage areas clean, and closing doors and dumpster lids can go a long way to reducing the need for pesticides.

Legislation passed last year requires all Pennsylvania public schools to provide notification to parents, students and teachers in advance of pesticide applications and requires schools to adopt an IPM plan to manage their pest problems both in and out of the classroom. In addition, the least toxic, shortest duration effective material is used. Pesticides are not applied when students, teachers or staff are present in the affected area to assure the safety of the school-learning environment. The Pittsburgh School District developed such a plan with the aid of the Pennsylvania Integrated Pest Management Program (PAIPM) five years ago, and can attest that it works.

Maria Moio, pest control operator and IPM coordinator for the Pittsburgh School District, initially had reservations about starting an IPM program in an urban setting. "I thought we would have a lot of obstacles to overcome, and ultimately it wouldn't work," she says. While she admits it can be costly to get an IPM program off the ground, she feels it's well worth it in the long-term. "We've found the savings to be tremendous, we're more than getting our initial investment out of the program. I also like the fact that we've been able to reduce our pesticide use, which is better for everyone involved," Moio explains.

Moio worked with the advocacy group Clean Water Action and used information from the Pennsylvania IPM Program to develop the school district's current IPM policy. "Once we had the policy in place, we could begin training the staff in individual school buildings on IPM." Custodial staff, electricians and others in the individual buildings are trained to implement IPM tactics while doing their jobs.

Moio credits a lot of her success with having the support of her supervisor Jay Boyd, director of plant operations for the school district. Boyd supports Moio's efforts because he sees the benefits a well-implemented IPM program. "We've had about a ninety-nine percent decrease in pest problems due to Moio's efforts," he says. "Education is really key, for the administrators, teachers and students. They all must play a part of an IPM program or it will fail," Boyd insists.

Green says that while the certification review process is a rigorous one, the Institute will work with schools, local Extension and other experts to overcome any problems an inspection may reveal. "One of the most common overlooked areas we've found among the school systems we've worked with is grounds maintenance, especially athletic competition fields," he says. "We ask that schools visually inspect playing fields for weeds, and only apply herbicides if weeds exceed acceptable levels. Proper mowing height, irrigation and aeration should be part of the program to keep turf healthy and resistant to weed invasion." An interim report is prepared after the inspection that contains a list of recommendations the school district must follow before certification can take place. Certification must be renewed every three years, with a mandatory re-inspection at that time.

The first-of-its-kind IPM certification program is being funded by the US Environmental Protection Agency and the National Foundation for IPM Education and is available to professionals, organizations, products and services. Green says they plan to expand the program to allow cooperative extension and other local experts to complete the required on-site inspection and reports, and, eventually, to offer certification to pest control operators, landscape service professionals, hospitals, and other public agencies,

More information on the IPM Star program is available online. The Pennsylvania IPM program is a collaboration between Penn State and the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture aimed at promoting IPM in both agricultural and nonagricultural situations. The PA IPM program's Web site contains information and resources for schools adopting IPM programs.