Moms and Dads in the Trenches

By: Tessa Hill, CHEC Report Editor

Because of children’s health legislation in Minnesota, going “back to school” now means going back to school facilities where administrators better understand the negatives of using pesticides on school property. It also means that parents, if they wish, must be notified when the school is using the most dangerous pesticides. As MNCHEC “Moms in the Trenches” in Minnesota, we took the first steps to launch this legislation to protect children.

It took “squeaky wheels” and lots of phone calls. There was letter writing and visiting with state legislators. The Moms of Minnesota’s Children’s Health Environmental Coalition (MNCHEC) are all very busy people – raising kids and working. But the health of cchildren is important enough to all of us to fit children’s environmental health activism into our lives. “We all believe that taking ‘good care’ of our children must include protecting them from illness caused by environmental hazards,” explains Robin Blair, a founding MNCHEC member, and children’s entertainer.

MNCHEC was formed when several of us met at a Beyond Pesticides meeting in Minnesota. The coalition members have varied talents and lots of commitment, like Judy Chavie, a nurse who is chemically sensitive and has worked with children whose learning abilities improved dramatically when placed in a chemical-free environment. Then there is Susan Berkson, a public relations director. Susan had the good sense to become active about this issue before her child could become ill from the pesticides sprayed in his preschool. She wrote an article for a local “parenting” magazine that alerted many people, including state Senator Janet Johnson, to the dangers of pesticides in schools. Flo Sandok helped educate the citizens of Rochester by inviting Dr. Phil Landrigan, who was to speak to Mayo Clinic pediatricians, also to address a town forum while he was in the area. And, of course, there were Kay, Pat, Mary Ann, Sylvia, Francie and Betty. (Betty has been battling pesticide misuse for 40 years.) I’m a member because I lost my 11-year-old son and my husband to cancer. I’m also on the Beyond Pesticides Board, the CHEC Board, and I’m President of the organization my son founded before he died – Kids for Saving Earth.

By our second meeting, we decided to call our group MNCHEC and to affiliate with CHEC because we wanted to emphasize children’s health issues. Our first goal was to pass state legislation to help protect children from pesticides in schools. We were joined by more moms like Kathleen Schuler, a public health educator, who worked with Judy and Pat in a pilot project to reduce pesticides in four schools. Julie Evans, an activist/writer mom who has worked hard on several environmental health issues including the hazards of standard lice medications and school indoor air pollution, joined. Jessica Roe, daughter of the late Senator Janet Johnson and an activist attorney with young children, helped inform Governor Jesse Ventura about the legislation. Also, thankfully, many other organizations joined with us to support this legislation.

Step by step, we began to lay the ground work. We:

Met with legislators.

Helped provide research information to write “The Right to Know” legislation. (Parents, if they so desire, have the right to know when the worst levels of pesticides are being sprayed at their child’s school.)

Asked more legislators to support the legislation.

Met with the Minnesota Department of Health to encourage their support of children’s health issues.

Testified at committee hearings.

Wrote editorials and articles for local newspapers.

Requested much needed help from other environmental organizations.

MNCHEC began this effort in 1998, and by 2000, with the help of Senator Janet Johnson, Rep. Jean Waginius, Rep. Peggy Leppik and several other legislators, the “Right to Know Law” was passed. In 2001, the Minnesota Department of Health held a major Children’s Environmental Health Conference. We celebrate our success, but we are not content. To get started in your state try the action steps above and go to for more information.