Spray of hope

By Beth Lucas

May 17, 2014 - 8:00 am
MUSD employee Dan Vezie, center, is honored for instituting healthy and green practices at local schools. Submitted photo

MUSD employee wins award for fighting pests in environmentally-friendly way

Dan Vezie wants every student in the Maricopa Unified School District to be safe.

The district works hard to keep students safe from strangers and injuries as they go about their school day: For Vezie, it’s the less obvious dangers he combats.

Dangers like chemicals, and pests.

“Some kids are allergic to certain things. Kids are young, more vulnerable than we are,” Vezie said. “We do our best to have a healthy environment for kids and staff to thrive in.”

Vezie, a six-year employee in the district’s maintenance department, has taken the reins on an environmentally-friendly, integrated pest management program launched a couple years ago.

His work earned him the University of Arizona’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences for Integrated Pest Management award. The award is only the second given by the university in 14 years, and it reflects Vezie’s effort to manage and prevent bests using economical, environmentally-friendly while effective.

The program launched in the district after Vezie began to take classes at the nearby University of Arizona branch campus three years ago. He took up a challenge to replace standard pest spraying that the district commissioned at the time.

Prevention is key to safe pest management, he said. That means replacing cardboard boxes that pests love, with plastic sealed boxes. It means educating staff to keep food, and used food wrappers, in closed bags or containers so they don’t attract pests.

It also means using natural sprays when a pest problem is reported, as opposed to chemicals. It means never spraying for weeds near the playground.

Spraying is only done when there is a problem reported.

“We use natural deterrents,” Vezie said. “We’re just trying to change the culture within our whole classroom environment. We use vinegar and eucalyptus products that are safe for the environment.

“It’s a lot healthier. When you spray around the baseboards — that kind of stuff can cause asthma. You can use base traps. Jelly can be put in cracks. And we use natural products like rosemary oil.”

His hope in the future is to be able to offer classes to parents in the district and teach them how to use green products and prevention to maintain pest issues in their homes as well. He also plans to review cleaning products used by staff for any other healthier alternatives.

“We get a lot of questions from parents,” he said. “‘What are you guys spraying? ‘How do you do this?’ It makes them feel better. Everyone worries when they see you spraying, so we want them to know what we use.”

His best advice is simple: Avoid clutter and don’t provide anything that can be food for pests. When you do get pests, he said — find out what it is, and the natural, safest method to remove that specific pest.

It’s become a strong partnership between the university and the district, with the university visiting to provide additional tips, and the district offering future research on the health impacts of the program. For instance, the university will track asthma cases at the school, Vezie said.

“We’re working with the University of Arizona to create a culture of doing things that are safe for the environment,” said Aron Rausch, MUSD’s director of business services. “And they’re going to be using us as one of the schools to do research with. It’s important because it eliminates chemicals that can be harmful to your environment, staff, community, students.

Rausch praised Vezie’s work. The award, he said, is “very deserving.” 

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