After parents complained to the Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District over its use of pesticides to control the gopher population on some school fields, district officials have suspended the use of those chemicals and are considering whether to make further changes to their method of notifying parents.
Parents who feared their children may have been affected by the pesticides at several Peninsula elementary schools say they remain displeased about what they describe as a lack of communication from the school district.
Concerns were raised last week by parents after several students at schools where pesticides had been applied over Presidents Day weekend showed symptoms that included rashes and, in one case, difficulty breathing. The parents who spoke to the PV News acknowledged there’s no way to definitively link the pesticides to their children’s symptoms, but they said the larger issue is that they were not told in advance when the chemicals would be used at the fields.
District Superintendent Don Austin responded to parent concerns over the chemicals in an email.
“We have no confirmed health-related issues at this time,” Austin said. “This is the same product used regularly on our fields for at least five years and is the same product used throughout most of the Los Angeles Metropolitan area. If parents have concerns, we would like them to contact their site principal.”
According to a notice on the district website, treatments Fumitoxin and Gopher Getter 2 were applied to several school fields Feb. 20 to prevent damage from gophers. The treatments are inserted underground as a pellet, which then transforms into a chemical that kills the rodents, said PVPUSD Superintendent Don Austin.
One parent of a child at Montemalaga Elementary School who did not want her name used said she noticed one of her children didn’t look well last week, but chalked it up to an everyday illness.
Then, when she picked her son up from school Feb. 22, she said his eyes were irritated and he had rash on the side of his face. It wasn’t until the next day that she found out about the pesticides on the fields, she said, and that’s when she took her son to the doctor.
The doctor said her son had contact dermatitis, a condition that can be caused by coming in contact with harsh chemicals, she said.
“I definitely want people to be aware and to know that this is going on, because it’s awful,” she said. “They shouldn’t’ be using these pesticides on any athletic fields at all.”
“We were not notified, we were not told that they were treating the fields with these chemicals,” she added.
Melissa Linderman, whose daughter goes to Montemalaga, said she first noticed her daughter having trouble breathing Feb. 19. She started giving her daughter Benadryl that day, and has continued giving her the antihistamine every day since then.
Previously, her 10-year-old had only ever taken the drug a handful of times, she said.
Like other parents, Linderman said there’s no way to prove that her daughter’s breathing issues were exacerbated by the chemicals, though that’s what she suspects happened.
“I’m angry that, as a parent, my rights have been violated by not notifying that this was going on,” she said.
Several parents expressed similar sentiments on the private social media site Nextdoor.
The school district responded to parents’ concerns in a series of posts to its website, beginning with one Feb. 24 that said all safety procedures were followed when the pesticides were applied.
The district’s contractor, RPW Services, posted the incorrect warning around the school fields, according to the notice. Instead of the correct notices about a pesticide that’s placed underground, the contractor put up warnings about a liquid chemical applied to the fields.
In another post Sunday, Feb. 26, the district reported that it would no longer use chemical treatments to manage gophers under the elementary school fields. Then on Monday, the district said in a subsequent post that it contacted the state Department of Pesticide Regulation about non-chemical methods to manage gophers.
Austin said he was first contacted about the chemicals in an email Feb. 23 from a principal and, over the next two days, the district had suspended the use of chemical treatments to manage gophers.
In response to parents’ concerns that they weren’t notified ahead of the treatment, Austin said the district is examining its notification methods, and added that he feels that is an area where the PVPUSD can improve.
“We’re trying to listen to those concerns and reevaluate if our notification system is meeting a standard that we ... feel comfortable with,” Austin said.
This story was updated about 8:30 p.m. Thursday with additional comments from Superintendent Austin.