LEWISTON — The Lewiston School Department has been recognized for using environmentally safe practices for pest management, minimizing the use of pesticides and insecticides.
The Maine Department of Agriculture awarded Lewiston schools an Integrated Pest Management Certification on Monday night, handing the honor to Building Maintenance Director Andre Baillargeon. It received the same award in 2005.
Lewiston school maintenance workers were praised for minimizing the use of poisons and chemicals and preventing pests from becoming a problem, “which results in a very clean, very safe, indoor healthy air,” said Kathy Murray, integrated pest management specialist for the Agriculture Department.
Lewiston is only one of two school districts in Maine, and only one of 15 to 20 nationwide, to be certified, she said, adding the standards ares tough. The other Maine district is Wells-Ogunquit School Department.
Pests such as mice can be a problem in schools, Murray said.
“Mice can carry bacteria, contaminate food and trigger asthma in children,” she said. One way to prevent them is to keep schools clean and not allow food or crumbs, which attract pests, to remain in corners or lockers.
“In the last couple of years we’ve seen two mice. It used to be a weekly event,” Baillargeon said. One way the mice problem was eliminated was with tighter doors and door sweeps, which were installed to promote energy efficiency. The tighter doors had a secondary benefit of keeping mice out, Baillargeon said.
Lewiston schools only use pesticides or insecticides as a last resort, and before using any, parents and faculty are notified, Murray said.
While said to be safe if used correctly, insecticides and pesticides are poisons, and some studies show they carry health risks, especially to young, developing children, Murray said. Some farmers who have used pesticides and insecticides have developed cancer, she said.
Superintendent Leon Levesque said Baillargeon has been the school department leader in finding alternatives. “Due to his efforts, we are all more aware of the impact of pesticides on people and the environment,” Levesque said.
School Committee Chairman Jim Handy thanked Baillargeon for being “the Pied Piper” of environmentally sound practices.