Saturday, October 23, 2010

Are humans really the cleverest primates?

Conservationists working with orang-outangs tell us they believe that they may be the most intelligent primate after humans.

The protective instinct of the females towards their young is especially inspiring to see. These wonderful forest dwellers are also intimately in tune with their natural habitat and acutely aware of any possible threats to their families.

Sadly we, as a society, seem to have lost this primal instinct. We seem oblivious to the world we're creating and the poisons we're rapidly polluting our only home with.

It's profoundly ironic that Chameleons Montessori is so named because you won't find any chameleons on Nitida wine farm, of that I'm certain. Here's a brief article that explains why, it's obvious really. They simply can't survive in that environment.

It seems I'm not the only one to notice an apparent decline in the chameleon population. A few local stories here provide food for thought.

Amazingly, someone has actually done a brief survey to see if chameleons are common in vineyards. Apparently they are pretty scarce on the farm that was surveyed. I reckon chameleons know what's good for them. The study can be read here.

The Cape Dwarf Chameleon is now a CITES protected endangered species.

Friday, October 22, 2010

My reply to Mr Bailes comments to the Rapport newspaper

As parents of children at Chameleons Montessori school will know, their PTA and Environmental committee representative, Mr Brendan Bailes, is unhappy with the negative reporting on the schools handling of the issue of possible pesticide contamination of the school premises and the children.

He recently wrote to the Rapport newspaper to argue his case and to demand a fairer representation. A copy of this letter was sent to those parents still sending their children to the school. A kind and thoughtful soul forwarded me a copy for my comments.

One issue he seems very upset about is the fact I'm not concentrating on any other schools in similar situations. He seems to think I'm being very unfair by only concentrating on Chameleons. To be frank I find this argument incredibly pathetic and childlike. It the sort of thing I sometimes hear from my teenage son when I scold him for something and he responds by saying " what about Joel? he's also doing it...!!" ..and walks off in a sulk.

My argument and disagreement is with the Chameleons Montessori because I maintain that their lack of care and the suppression of honest discussion last year coupled with their misrepresentation of the truth regarding what the Dept. of Health actually reported may have prolonged my son's exposure in an environment I now regard as being unsafe.

I believe this group of people betrayed our trust and did not act with our children's interest as the first priority. The school made decisions and evaluations regarding the possible risks to my child that they had absolutely no qualification to make. Neither did they have my authority to make these decisions without my informed consent. They actively tried to suppress the spread of any information that might have given parents cause for concern. They had no right to do this and I consider this profoundly dishonest. I will continue to hold them accountable for their failure to act appropriately.

I submitted my own letter to the editor of the rapport on the 20 October 2010. I don't know whether it will be published so I post it here as a record of my position against the school policy and actions.

20 Oct 2010

Re: Children and Pesticides

Dear Editor

I write to congratulate you and your newspaper for having the courage and integrity to investigate the matter of possible pesticide exposure of children attending the Montessori School on Nitida wine farm outside Durbanville.

I believe that as the true situation, and the limitation of what we can reliable say about the safety of these poisons, becomes more widely known and understood no reasonable parent will willingly expose their children to such unnecessary risks.

On the 27 May 2010 Professor Leslie London (of The School of Public Health & Family Medicine at UCT) , a leading expert on this matter, addressed parents at Chameleons Montessori School. In his talk Prof. London goes to great length to show why we cannot assume there is no risk present and why it is that we know so little about the possible dangers these chemicals pose. He also pointed out the critical weakness in the present legislation especially in regard to the protection of children.

The full transcript of his talk can be read on the internet at:

The Schools position after listening to everything Prof. London had to say was expressed by Mr Dave D'Aguiar of the Financial Steering Committee. Despite everything that had been explained Mr D’Aguiar responded with; “From what I am hearing tonight, I do not see a risk, I’m sorry”

The following is taken from a recent email (2 July 2010) from the school to parents explaining the schools policy and actions.

"On 21 April 2009 Emma approached the school’s environmental health Inspector (Gerrit Van Wyk) for assistance in the investigation. The school provided Gerrit with the list of sprays used on Nitida . Mr Van Wyk came back to the school in May and confirmed that the Toxicology Dept at Tygerberg confirmed that there is no long term effects of exposure to the sprays."

However, when we examined the email that Mr Van Wyk actually sent we find he said something quite different. This is quoted directly from his emails as provided by the school.

“The Toxicology Dept. Tygerberg informed me that there is no information/evidence of the effects of long term exposure to these poisons"

“We can however not say that long term exposure to these poisons will not be harmful to a person."

In a further email from Mr van Wyk written in May 2010 he adds the following; “"acute exposure may cause skin and respiratory irritation, but that there is no information and evidence of what long term exposure to these chemicals may cause."

I take the view that the school has, either though ignorance or deliberate misinformation, mislead parents as to the reality of the risks their children may be exposed to at Chameleons Montessori.

It has been made abundantly clear that the present regulation of pesticides does not in any meaningful way provide adequate protection to our children yet the school insists on only referring to data as provided by the dept. of Agriculture and the distributors of these poisons.

Any independent data or research seems to be ignored. Members of the Galileo Group have on various occasions presented the school with published scientific and medical research that specifically shows that a number of the chemicals used routinely on Nitida have been shown to be carcinogenic and toxic in various other ways also. Parents are still told that there is no evidence of any risks.

The school has been operating at Nitida for about 5 years now, I believe. At no point in the past has any attempt been made by the owners to establish whether the premises are safe from contamination nor have any significant safety procedures been followed. That the school is now taking some small steps to address the situation at least allows a degree of discussion on the matter. It should be pointed out that the fact the school is now at least acknowledging the issue is entirely due to the actions of concerned parents and the Galileo Group.

In closing I would offer a challenge to the representatives of the pesticide manufacturers and distributors. Instead of you claiming there is no proof that these chemicals may cause harm to our children why not show us some of the research and evidence you have that clearly proves your assertion that they are safe? Surely if, as you keep telling us, you know these poisons are not a risk you must have some good evidence to prove this. What research have you done to ensure you are not inadvertently negatively affecting our children’s health and lives? We’d very much like to see your proof, after all, you are the ones with all the scientists working for you.


Ford Hallam

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Chameleons Montessori School battles on regardless....

I've just been reading through an email sent out to parents of children at Chameleons that outlines their plans for 2011.

Personally I find it a bit premature that they've got all sorts of exciting plans to boost the numbers of students there when, as yet, we still have no idea what the results of the testing procedures will be.

Surely it would be prudent to wait to find out whether they can in fact claim there is no contamination of the school premises and that children are not being exposed to these poisons before dragging in another batch of unknowing customers?

The school has finally, 5 years after starting at Nitida, been forced to acknowledge the possibility that there may be a danger posed by these chemicals and has said it is doing some testing to discover the reality of the situation. I haven't been able to get anyone to confirm that anything is actually been done as yet but we wait in hope. In the meantime though, the management of the school seems mainly concerned with making up the numbers lost due to people leaving over fears of possible pesticide exposure.

To me it all seems to demonstrate what many of us have come to expect from the school. Come what may and regardless of whatever evidence and facts are presented they will not be moved. All we can hope for is that people with no vested interests there will see the obvious potential for harm and not put their children in such an obviously risky situation.

It's also somewhat odd that while one of the teachers who've tendered their resignation is mentioned and wished well, the other, the actual directress of the primary school, is not mentioned at all. All we are told is;
We will use 2011 to source a dynamic Senior Primary Directress to recreate this class again when we are ready.

It's quite sad that this is how the school treats anyone who, for perfectly legitimate reasons, decides to leave them. From what I understand this lady practically created the primary school single-handedly as neither the principle nor her sister had the qualifications nor experience to do the job themselves.

The following is taken from the schools inappropriately optimistic email of 11 October 2010

Pre-school: Development Plans for 2011

Our two current pre-school classes (Butterflies & Ladybirds) are already full for 2011. As part of our strategic plan, as well as due to increasing demand, we intend introducing a third Pre-school class which will be situated at the Primary Campus in the room currently being used by our Senior Primary Class. Filling this additional class is already underway with only 12 more enrolments needed to have a full compliment for 2011.

The Year Ahead

We remain very enthusiastic and inspired for the year ahead. With this plan we will increase our Chameleons enrolment to 112 children across all campuses – our highest ever!! We are confident that our strategic plan is well grounded and will meet the needs of all our 2011 families.

2011 will be a year of stability, growth and further development in all aspects of Chameleons and we look forward to the re-introduction of our Senior primary class again in the near future as this remains an integral part of the future development of the school.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Transcript of the talk given By Prof: L. London at Chameleons Montessori School 27 May 2010

The following transcript was made of the DVD recording of the talk Prof. London gave at the Chameleons School on the 27 May 2010.

There are a few minutes missing here and there as the audio was not clear enough to accurately hear what was being said but I believe we've managed to record practically everything of consequence that was discussed at that meeting. Where necessary I have summarised what was said to provide context and only directly quoted those parts we could accurately hear.

When time allows I will add some additional commentary that may help provide some context to some of the comments made by members of the schools financial steering committee and the principle and owners of the school.

I have added a time reference so that anyone with a copy of the DVD may check the accuracy of what I've transcribed. We can also make copies available should anyone be interested to hear this talk for themselves.

The DVD begins with a brief welcome etc.


Brendon Bailes ( Environmental Committee) mentioned groundwater tests that had been done. “phosphates and all that stuff and there’s none so that clears that up”

Comment: Mr Bailes seems to either simply not understand what Mr Veller told him regarding the actual tests that were carried out or he is deliberately misrepresenting the true situation here. I documented the details and proved the evidence in a previous post, here.


Brendon Bailes talks of testing the children for cholinesterase to prove they are not being affected by sprays etc.

Comment: One has to wonder why Mr Bailes was suggesting this particular test as it will only reveal if a person has been exposed to organophosphates and we had already been assured by Mr Veller that none were used on the farm.

He told us he'd spoken at length with the makers of the test, Pathcare. I spoke with a Mr Cor Alber at Pathcare also and he confirmed that there can be no confusion about the tests application. The suggestion that the children be tested in this way was never the less still mentioned in the Environmental Committee's next meeting's minutes despite Prof. London pointing out it was inappropriate and a detailed email from myself also. Again, either Mr Bailes didn't understand what he's talking about or he was proposing a test that was guaranteed to show a negative result and would create the false impression that something had been tested and all was safe.


Prof London tells us cholinesterase tests will not be helpful in our situation.


Prof London “the problem is one of long term exposure and accumulative effect”.


Prof London speaks about the fact that there is little data available on many of the pesticides relating to various health issues. He states that the absence of evidence is not evidence that the is no evidence, merely that it’s not been investigated as yet.


Mention of a tree barrier. 8-10 metres beyond the barrier may be safe. Buffer zone of 10 metres.


Prof London “ there’s lack of human resources in Gov Dept.s also, the best toxicologists probably work for the chemical manufacturers”.


Prof London “chemicals must be applied in accordance with the safety data labels, if not the SAPS must arrest …(the persons not following the law?)


Prof London “just because the pesticide is used in accordance with the law doesn’t mean it is safe”.


Q: re: absorption through the skin in the sandpit?

A: Prof L - Yes, if there is any deposit the level of absorption will vary etc.. The skin in the main route for absorption.


Prof London talks about Mancozeb - not acutely toxic, cancer causing, endocrine disrupter, it’s thought to have an effect on development aspects and cause adult fertility problems, long term effects not known yet, no definitive answer yet.


Prof London “the problem regarding risk assessment is we just don’t have sufficient data to make reliable extrapolation. The precautionary approach would be to aim at reducing the exposure as much as possible“.


Q: Would washing down the sandpit after spraying help?

A: Prof L - Water is not the solution, a cover could help.


Q: Obviously trees will take a long time to grow so would it help to put up a shade cloth along the border where the spray is most prevalent ie. Pre primary? Could be a temporary solution?

A: Prof L - you would need to ask an environmental engineer - it might work.


Q: Is taking the children out of school when they spray of any use?

A: Prof L - keeping children away ( while spraying) isn’t much use if there is any deposit.


Q: Is it worth testing the grass etc for traces of chemicals?

A: Prof London offered to provide contact details of suitable labs.


Q: Prof London was asked his opinion regarding the severity of the risk and whether he would send his kids to the school.

A: Prof L - I can’t answer that question but my answer to you would be, if I were to build a school I wouldn’t build it on a farm , just to be safe.


Emma Medell (Principal) - Just for the record, I don’t know if everybody is aware of what our policy is in the school, that if there is vine spraying the children don’t go outside to play. They are kept indoors while the spraying is going on and then for 2 hours afterwards. There have been criticisms about how healthy it is in the middle of summer for the children to be kept indoors so the windows are open for some fresh, for some air. They are not all wide open but there are windows open so there is some fresh air. So that’s kind of where it stands so they are protected by the building at that stage and for 2 hours thereafter….. And spraying down the outside after, the hosing down afterwards outside…….

Prof London - If you do go the route of doing some environmental samples, them you could actually base your policy on some evidence.

Dave D’Aguair (School Business Steering Committee) - Do you have any sort of idea what costs might be incurred doing some test?

Q: re risk of breakdown product and residues.

A: Prof L - very unusual for any sort of agricultural spray activity not to result in a certain amount of residue and contamination and run off. I wouldn’t believe a study that said there was nothing….it doesn’t make sense….it gets into the environment.


Prof L - There could be a possibility of a student of Prof London doing some air quality studies.


Q: Is it safe when there is no spraying?

A: Prof L - It all depends whether there are any residues in the soil and surfaces.


Bernard Veller (Owner of Nitida wine farm)

rejects organic approach involving CuSO4 as “it’s the most toxic, toxic stuff you can come across!” equated Mancozeb with CuSO4 because both are heavy metals.


Q: Could any chemicals on the spray list be directly linked to, for example, bronchitis and leaky bowel syndrome or any such sickness?

A: Prof London - Bronchitis is …. ???? ….. But bronchitis would not necessarily be an obvious indication. Some pesticides can cause allergies and asthma. With regard to leaky bowel, I don’t think a pesticide can cause a structural defect.

Q: About how quick does the irritants effects show?

A: Prof L - typically fairly quickly.

Q: (By Claire referring to Albe‘s circumstance ) So it’s not likely that if say the last spraying was in January, come September you get sick it’s not likely you could link it to the spraying?

Comment: It should be pointed out here that the spraying recommences in September. this fact seems lost on Claire.

A: Prof London now refers to Asthma, although it appears Claire believes he is referring to Albe‘s condition - “it was more likely caused by pollen or house mites“.


Q: why would you not put a school on a farm?

A: Prof L - “There is always a degree of uncertainty, we can’t prove something is safe only that it’s harmful. If you have a choice you could have a school somewhere else. Think about things like deposition on the soil.

The precautionary principle is that if there is an air of risk and you can’t quantify that risk, you would take precautionary action.”

Q: why can’t we quantify the risk?

A: Prof L - in the registration, I think there is certain information lacking but even if it was perfect I think that with the particular exposure you have now there are too many assumptions you have to make. There are too any assumptions and the evidence and literature about the hazards of many chemicals are not available.


Q: Due to the lack of evidence and research, should we rather move the school?

A: Dave D’Aguair - Excuse me, but that’s no reason to move the school. With the greatest respect it’s far easier to remove one child from the school because I don’t see a risk. .

Claire - but that’s what the tests might show us.

Dave - Then that’s our proof, we go do the tests, we spend R20,000 and then we’ve got some evidence we can go on.


Concerns over chronic health risks regarding fungicides raised.


Q; about the other parts of a compound not the active ingredients.

A: Prof London explains how the inert compound in a formulation, which is not required to be indicated in the registration, can be more of a risk than the active ingredient. Roundup used as an example where all the inerts are unknown. Testing will only reveal specifically what you test for.

Q: re symptoms we might expect from exposure?

A: Prof L - Any inhaled agent can cause respiratory symptoms. So it might be it comes across like a cold but it’s actually the reaction to some irritants in the upper respiratory tract. Organophosphates can actually mimic flu if there is low exposure, but there is no organophosphates being used on this farm. It can present like headaches, dizziness and upper respiratory track symptoms.

The other problem that might arise are skin complaints, skin irritations or allergies, sometimes because the pesticides are deposited on the skin and absorbed through the skin. The neurological effects are very subtle about memory, cognition, speed of reaction and children we can measure through development test.

“Effects that are known are generally for adults, they might be different for children”

Monday, July 5, 2010

Chameleons Montessori school continues to see things just as it suits them.

Last Friday, 2 July 2010, I received the long awaited report of the schools investigations into the spraying issue. I assume all parents have now been sent the same email.

The email is accompanied by 11 individual attachments that are intended to back up the schools commentary. It is quite a hassle to actually get to any specific annexure so I don't suppose many people will have the time to go though all the supporting evidence. Much if what is provided is not all that relevant in any case.

What is of major concern, though, is the content of the emails that passed between the school and the Dept of Health. The school advised us that a Mr Gerrit Van Wyk, of the Dept. of Health, had been contacted regarding the chemicals used on the farm.

The following quotes are all taken from the documents the school sent out last Friday.

the following from Emma Medell to Mr Van Wyk, 21 April 2009

"I would please like some feedback from you as to whether these sprays are in fact safe to the children. We have been re-assured by both the farmer and the supplier that the sprays are not harmful, but parents would like further re-assurance from a neutral source. "

the reply from Mr Van Wyk, 7 May 2009

"Emma - sorry for the delay, but I am waiting on a Mr. Chris Cummings of Croplife S. A. that deals with the poisons, to get back to me. The Toxicology Dept. Tygerberg informed me that there is no information/evidence of the effects of long term exposure to these poisons"

Croplife is an association that represents the interests of the chemical manufacturers and distributors. Personally speaking I can't see how Mr Cummings can therefore be regarded as having an unbiased opinion. A brief internet search will reveal that Mansanto, for example, has a less then shining reputation when it comes to reporting scientific evidence and the true effects of it's chemical products. See here for more details. Would you trust this corporation with your child's health?

a further email from Mr Van Wyk, 20 May 2009

"I spoke to Dr. Else Trautman of the Department of Agriculture who directed me to Chris Cumming of Croplife SA. Mr. Cumming was also involved in a similar case in, I think, Riebeeck Kasteel. According to him the farmers are in their full right to spray these poisons as long as they conform to the requirements of Act 36 of 1937. We can however not say that long term exposure to these poisons will not be harmful to a person."

The following is taken from the recently issued report, from the school. 2 July 2010

"On 21 April 2009 Emma approached the school’s environmental health Inspector (Gerrit Van Wyk) for assistance in the investigation. The school provided Gerrit with the list of sprays used on Nitida . Mr Van Wyk came back to the school in May and confirmed that the Toxicology Dept at Tygerberg confirmed that there is no long term effects of exposure to the sprays."

One doesn't need a degree in English to see the error in Emma's interpretation here. Whether this is due to ignorance or is an attempt to deliberately mislead parents would probably be for a court to decide. However, Emma reports exactly the opposite of what Mr Van Wyk actually wrote, that much is a fact.

I'm left wondering, now that this misrepresentation has been revealed, whether this glaring contradiction at the centre of the school's policy isn't the real reason it's taken so long for this evidence of the schools investigations to be shared with us. Personally speaking, if I'd been presented with the truth regarding what Mr Van Wyk had told the school I think I would have begun my own investigations last May.

The following assurance is taken from the schools report, 2 July 2010
"Emma conferred with Gerit Van Wyk (of Environmental Health ) after the meeting(18 August 2009) and he said that he was satisfied that the school was acting responsibly.( Annexure 6)."

The letter referred to here ( annexure 6) was only written in May 2010 and in fact does not in any way state that Mr Van Wyk was satisfied that the school was acting responsibly. Nothing of the sort was written at all. It merely states that Mr Van Wyk agreed that the proposed safety measure be implemented. This is not the same thing as saying he was satisfied the school was acting responsibly at all nor does it even suggest these proposed measures were adequate.

Mr Van Wyk also re-stated his previous comment;

"acute exposure may cause skin and respiratory irritation, but that there is no information and evidence of what long term exposure to these chemicals may cause."

Having spoken with Mr Van Wyk it seems to me that despite his repeated attempts to impress upon the school the uncertainty regarding the ultimate safety of long term exposure to these chemicals the school prefers to interpret things as it sees fit.

We're repeatedly told by the dept. of Health that there is no information nor evidence regarding the long term hazards and Prof. London went into some detail ( at the meeting of 27 May, at the school) about the lack of data and the dangers of assuming that in the absence of evidence there is no cause for concern. It seems irresponsible to me, that despite the continued attempts by the relevant authorities, the school knowingly makes statements like the following, in their spraying policy as sent out last Friday, 2 July 2010.

"There is no conclusive evidence that the spraying of the vineyards has any direct
effect on the children or staff's health or that it is the cause of allergies."

"To date there is no proof that any of the chemicals used in the seasonal cropspraying
process are in fact carcinogenic"

"Fungacides are being used on the farm but there is no evidence of negative effects on the children’s health."

" Emma raised the concern about various chemicals grouped together i.e. the “cocktail effect” but again there was agreement that there was no proof of this having a negative effect either."

" In direct discussion about Mancozeb, there was agreement that there is no proof that it is carcinogenic."

There is published medical research that directly contradicts this statement. You can read some of it here.

I actually handed copies of these myself to Emma when I handed her my letter of intent to remove my son from the school. As for the other denials, I find it almost insulting that the school continues to trot out this completely inaccurate nonsense and to continue to misinform the parents of the children in their care.

The schools continued policy appears to be one of claiming no risk exists until absolute proof is presented. The only area where this sort of proof is possible is in pure mathematics. In science it's a matter of assessing the available evidence and forming working theories on the evidence we have.

The school has repeatedly demonstrated it's inability to asses inconvenient evidence in any sort of impartial way. There seems to me a very real risk that this failure to disregard financial considerations and to, instead, place the safety of our children first, may prove in the long term, to have been short-sighted, to say the very least.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Update: Sunday 20 June 2010

Update: Sunday 20 June 2010

I received an email a little while ago, from the school, most of it irrelevant fluff but this bone of contention regarding my allegation that teachers were threatened etc and the school's denial of any knowledge thereof was alluded to. I quote from the email;

"Yesterday morning we held a meeting with Brendon Bailes, Chairperson of the newly formed PTA and Wayne Campbell, Vice Chairperson of the PTA. One of the items discussed was the school’s position on items that you had raised with Brendon.

The school welcomes your input into the work of the Environmental Health Committee and appreciates any information that you may have to share that would shed light on the vine spraying issue. The school will however not enter into discussion on internal matters with you, and will continue to follow recognised internal procedures for such matters."

They refuse to acknowledge what Brendon has already confirmed in his emails to awkward...for them! They made the matter public, called my integrity into question and now, when they are shown to be covering up the truth, they refuse to discuss the matter any further.

I'm a bit disappointed at this utter lack of moral courage the school continues to display but I take comfort in the sure knowledge the truth will out.....eventually.

Update: 24 June 2010

One of the parents who is still considered worthy of being kept informed forwarded me a copy of the latest EHC meeting minutes, today. The issue of the teachers having felt threatened was finally acknowledged.

I quote from the minutes;

"Emma and Claire went on to report that they had also consulted with Joanne and Abi-Gail as to whether they had received threats of law suits from the school should any parent remove their children from the school citing vineyard spraying. Joanne and Abi-Gail referred back to January when they issued the school with a grievance letter regarding a meeting held with Emma, Claire and a member of the business steering committee. In the grievance raised, the Directress’ said that they felt threatened by the way in which they had been addressed. This grievance was addressed through the appropriate internal procedures. An independent HR consultant was brought in to resolve the issues raised by the directress’. In this process Emma and Claire clarified with the Directress’ that this was not their intention and that the school would in no way presume to threaten the Directress’ in any way. With the assistance of the HR consultant everyone agreed that they felt that the issues raised had been resolved and clarified. Emma and Claire were therefore under the impression that the matter had been resolved via this process (in early February). No further mention of such issues was raised by the Directress’ again. When Ford Hallam recently raised the issue that Directress’ had been threatened with law suits from the school, Emma and Claire did not make the association of this to the above Grievance and therefore made the statement below (as stated in the minutes of the EHC dated 27 May 2010).
“The school went on to state that Ford’s comment with regard to staff being threatened with legal action should a parent remove their child citing vine spraying as the reason is completely unfounded and untrue. The school has no idea where such a sentiment stems from."

So there you have it. Yes, teachers did feel as though they'd been threatened. The "member of the BSC" referred to was Dave D'Aguiar by the way. I mention this because I take the view that his attitude and behaviour in this whole matter regarding the spraying has been extremely inappropriate. This is something I'll elaborate on in later posts.

Personally, I find "the school's" claim that they didn't make a connection between my allegation and the grievance complaint to be very dubious, to say the least.

I wonder if the school will now send out an email to all parents correcting the impression they created, that there was no foundation for the allegation. Will the school now admit that I was not misinformed and that the school (inexplicably) "didn't make the connection" to a serious grievance complaint made by the teachers in January that details precisely what I alluded to?

The matter of the "white, sticky residue" was also brought up. It was reported that both the teachers confirmed that they'd reported their concerns over this, towards the end of last year, to Emma and Claire. I quote again from the minutes;

"Emma and Claire said that they do not have any recollection of being given such information"

This I find extremely worrying. It suggests, that at a time when one teacher is experiencing serious health problems that her doctor diagnosed as being due to "an external irritant" in the lungs, the school seems to have forgotten, or chosen to ignore, the other teachers concerns over a visible spray residue in the actual school building. It would appear that yet again they "didn't make the connection".

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

How sadly ironic....Chameleons Montessori completely out of step with enlightened thinking about our future.

It would be quite funny if it wasn't so sad but while our Chameleons Montessori school is fighting tooth and nail to remain in the middle of a working wine farm and to thereby continue exposing children unnecessarily to potential heath risks, over in Ontario, Canada, the Stratford Montessori school is part of an enlightened champaign to make their environment pesticide free.

You can have a read about the project by following this link.

It's reassuring to see that there are Montessori schools in the world who really do care about their children's health and that our school may hopefully only be an anomaly it it's inability to see the best way forward in terms of creating a safer and healthier world for our children to grow up in.

Chameleons Montessori Policy regarding vineyard spraying

On the DVD made of the talk and Q&A session with Prof. London at the Chameleons School recently ( 25 May 2010) the principal, Emma Medell, details the school's policy with regard to protecting the children from chemical spray drift. This can be heard at 35:30 into the film.

The following is a word for word transcription.

"Just for the record, I don't know if everybody is aware of what our policy is in the school, that if there is vine spraying the children don't go outside to play.

They are kept indoors while the spraying is going on and then for 2 hours afterwards. There have been criticisms about how healthy it is in the middle of the summer for the children to be kept indoors. The windows are open for some fresh, for some air. They are not all wide open but there are windows open so there is some fresh air.

So that's kind of where it stands so they are protected by the building at that stage and for 2 hours thereafter."

(there's some other comment form other people at this point but it's difficult to hear exactly as there's too much mumbling) and then Emma continues...

"and spraying down outside after, the hosing down afterwards outside."

I'm pretty certain anyone reading this "official policy" will be immediately struck by the absurd contradiction it displays. The children are kept indoors to protect them from the chemical spray but some of the windows are open to allow in fresh air!

This is so ridiculous it would be funny were it not so indicative of the completely inadequate understanding of reality of the problem on the part of the school. An 8 year old can see the flaw of this the pretence of "protecting the children", mine immediately did when I explained it to him.

We're told the children are kept in while there's spraying going on and for 2 hours afterwards. No particular proximity is given but I would suggest that any time there is active spraying being conducted on the farm it would be appropriate to take some sort of effective protective action.

We now know that, despite the continued misapprehension among many parents that it's only 6 days a year, spraying takes place on at least 10 dates, as indicated on the last spray schedule we were given. Each of those dates indicates spaying activity that lasts anywhere from 2 to 3 days. Mr Veller, the owner of Nitida, has further confirmed, that typically, the spraying lasts from 7am until 5:30 pm each day.

If you compare the actual reality of spray activity on the farm and the school's policy of keeping the children indoors you will clearly recognise yet another apparent contradiction. How, exactly are the children kept indoors for 2 hours after the spraying when the spraying only finishes after the school day ends? and in addition, is already under way an hour before school even starts in the morning?

In my view this "policy" is nothing more than a pretence to suggest something is being done because, clearly, it is practically irrelevant.

As for hosing down afterwards; I don't know anyone who can confirm that they've actually ever seen evidence of this at all. Remember, we're talking about completely wet grounds when you collect your children, for 3 days at a time about every 2 weeks, during the summer. I think we'd have noticed...don't you? I assume they would have needed to wash all the windows each day too. It all hardly seems possible.

Neither can we imagine exactly how this "decontamination" would be carried out in such a way as to ensure the bulk of the spray residue has been effectively washed away. In fact, Prof. London, during his talk, suggested that water probably isn't the solution. I don't suppose he intended the pun.

If this farce isn't enough to convince you of the inadequacy of the schools response to the problem consider the following.

Right outside the schoolrooms is the swimming pool. This open body of water is completely exposed to the air, and whatever is in it, every day of the year. It serves as a perfect catchment area for every single chemical compound that may drift over the premises. There is no natural drainage, the water isn't replaced, merely topped up. I imagine the various compounds will gradually accumulate in the pool water, braking down to perhaps reform into any number of unknown, new compounds and be further complimented by the pool chemicals. Given the size of these chemical particles I think it reasonable to assume the pool's filtration unit will not be sufficiently fine nor sophisticated enough to keep the water free of these contaminants. Swimming pool filters are designed to remove solid matter not chemical residues.

Once a week for about 30 minutes or more, during summer, our children are routinely dipped for into this soup of completely unknown chemicals. You'll no doubt remember that the most common route for pesticide absorption is through the skin so by placing our semi-naked children in this water we maximise the potential for exposure. It's also likely the children swallow some of this water and eyes, ears and noses would obviously be quite sensitive to any potential irritants present.

I doubt that any scientific or medical research ethics council would allow such an obviously hazardous "experiment" to be be conducted. Yet at Chameleons Montessori the clear potential for very real harm to our children was simply not recognised.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Another potentially dangerous chemical under scrutiny.

A published article in the Scientific American journal gives cause for concern.

"Are Pesticides from Plants Dangerous to Humans?

It remains unclear how the pesticides from plants known as pyrethroids affect human health."

"Chemicals derived from flowers may sound harmless, but new research raises concerns about compounds synthesized from chrysanthemums that are used in virtually every household pesticide. "

"For at least a decade, pyrethroids have been the insecticide of choice for consumers, replacing organophosphate pesticides, which are far more toxic to people and wildlife. But evidence is mounting that the switch to less-toxic pyrethroids has brought its own set of new ecological and human health risks."

"Both California and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are reevaluating the chemicals because of safety concerns. “Pyrethroids are obviously a safer alternative to organophosphates, but just because they are safer doesn’t mean they are safe,” said Dana Boyd Barr, a research professor of environmental health at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health in Atlanta, Georgia."

"Children are more highly exposed to pyrethroids because “they spend a lot more time on the floor and have much more hand to mouth activity,” Barr said. “Pyrethroids tend to accumulate in dust or on surface areas in homes because they don’t evaporate easily into the air."

"Studies with lab animals have linked pyrethroid exposure to damage of the thyroid, liver and nervous system, as well as impairment of behavioral development, changes in the immune system and disruption of reproductive hormones, according to the 2006 EPA review. These animal studies are relevant to human health because pyrethroids act on functions of the nervous system common to all animals, according to the EPA."

While I have not as yet identified any of these chemicals in products presently used on Nitida this story does serve to show how, as research accumulates, chemicals previously thought to be relatively safe are eventually recognised as being potentially a serious risk.

The full story can be read here.

Still no answers to the first issues I raised.

In a recent email to parents of the school on Nitida it was claimed that the Environmental Health Committee had spent many hours answering my many questions and that none of the answers provided have been reflected on this blog. So I will start at the beginning and detail the many questions I've posed and you can judge for yourself whether any credible answers have been forthcoming from the school. There are more to follow but these were the first comments I offered hoping for at least some response.

On the 3 May 2010, following the 27 April meeting to discuss the spaying issue I sent the following email to Emma Medell (the principle of the school) and the 4 members of the business steering committee, Dave and Alice D'Aguiar and Rolph and Fiona Walther. Accompanying this email was a copy of the full analysis, as I saw it, of the 27 April meeting and events as they effected my family leading up to this meeting.
This can be found here.

A summary of my own conclusions and my opinion on the issue is posted below, this was included in my email. I maintain that to date not one of these issues have been address nor even acknowledged. In fact, my email wasn't even acknowledged either. I am still waiting for these points to be answered.

"4 May 2010
Dear Emma, Alice, Dave, Fiona and Ralph

I'm writing to express, directly to you, my disappointment and sadness over the way recent events have unfolded.
I have considered each of you to be a friend. I've enjoyed your company on many occasions and felt a genuine bond with you.

My feelings about our most recent interaction with you as a group, in the the form of the Business Steering Committee and the school as a business, are, however, very different.

I feel I've been treated with a complete lack of courtesy or honesty. My perception of the way things prior to, and actually at, last Thursday's meeting appear are detailed in my, fairly lengthy, commentary below. If any of you should read it and feel you can demonstrate to me how and where I'm mistaken in my analysis I welcome being shown.

As things stand, I feel that, as a group, you have demonstrated a total disregard for any sort of balanced appraisal of the situation and have placed the schools business considerations before all others. I consider that in the evaluation of my son's safety and health there can be no other considerations to take into account at all.

What I personally find most baffling is how it is, while confessing your ignorance of any real facts, you are all, never-the-less, so adamant that this is a non-issue. Your willingness to throw out misleading, irrelevant and completely inaccurate information in defence of your, completely unexamined, stance leaves me feeling insulted, angry and bewildered.

I know I'm not the only parent who feels this way and I imagine that you may well be feeling similar emotions, but for slightly different reasons perhaps. I am not prepard to hide my opinion nor my true feelings and put a false smile on to pretend nothing is wrong. I've stated my views as clearly and as accurately as I can.



Please note: This document is written without prejudice



Reassurances as to the legality and safety issues surrounding spraying given by both the owner of the farm and the School are reasonably shown to be misleading and inadequate.


According to present legislation it is illegal to allow agricultural chemicals to drift onto “areas not being treated”

It appears highly probably that spray drift does in fact end up on the school premises.


The school has taken no steps to establish that the school isn’t contaminated in this way.

The school continues to deny any problem may exist and is resistant to assessing any findings that suggest cause for concern.

The full details and implications of the valid concerns of a small group of parents are being withheld from the larger body of parents. This has prevented an open discussion and debate on the matter.

In communications with TATIB ( the Air That I Breathe foundation, who first raised concerns over spraying near our school) A representative of the schools Business Steering Committee represented themselves as being from the Parent Committee.

We don’t have a Parent Committee to represent our views and concerns.

The school has a legal duty to show that due care has been taken with regard to our children’s safety. The onus is on the school to prove that the school and it’s premises are free of agricultural chemicals. This can be done by instituting a thorough analysis of the soil, vegetation and school building. It seems prudent to carry out air quality tests specifically on the days that spraying does take place, also.

Failure to demonstrate that the school is a safe environment and that the farm is operating within the law may give parents the right to hold both liable for any harm that may subsequently come to light."

While it may seem a minor matter I publish a copy of the contents of one of the emails to TATIB in which a member of the BSC presents themselves as a representative of the Parent Committee, a committee we didn't have at the time. There exist a number of such "misleading" emails and I'm willing to forward copies to anyone who wishes to look into this matter. I feel this misrepresentation was a deliberate attempt to try and control the spread of information.Message
"Hi Jurgen,
I have asked you to direct your mails to me alone, I am the 'point person' and I assure you I will pass on your mails as necessary.
It is a simple request, kindly comply.
Kind regards

Dave D'Aguiar
Parent Committee"

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Ground water testing at Nitida Wine farm as reported by the Chameleons Montessori EHC

At the start of the talk given by Prof Leslie London at Chameleons Montessori on 20 May 2010 a representative of the Environmental Health Committee, Mr Brendon Bailes, reported the committee’s findings regarding the matter of ground water contamination from the chemical use on the farm.

On the DVD made of the meeting this can be viewed at 4min 10sec.

Brendon mentions that with regard to the groundwater some tests had been done for, and I quote him here,
“phosphates and all that stuff and there’s none so that clears that up”
Following this meeting Brandon forwarded the correspondence (via email on the 25 May) that took place between himself and Bernard Veller, the owner of Nitida, in which this issue is discussed.

The emails are quite brief and I quote only the relevant bits here;

From Brendon Bailes to Bernard Veller, 17 May 2010
“has the ground water been tested recently? One thing the school asked me to look into was water- ground water testing?”

Reply from Mr Veller, 17 May 2010

“I have had it tested recently for phosphates. What is the school specifically interested in. I am sure you understand there are 101 things you can test for”

Brandon writes back;

“Is there any possibility to obtain a copy of the testing so I can show the Committee”

Reply from Mr Veller, 17 May 2010

“Latest test results as requested. You will see that they are very limited as I was looking at phosphates and nitrates alone. A comprehensive test for solids etc will cost about R500. I can have it analysed for e-coli for about R75. My 2 effluent plants have had e-coli at zero for months now. Again it depends what you are looking for”

Bernard Veller was at that meeting with Prof. London and presumably heard Brendon’s statement regarding the results of the testing. It seems negligent to me that this obvious misunderstanding on Brendon’s part was not corrected.

To be fair to Mr Veller though, he was quite clear in his emails about the extent of the testing so I fail to see how the EHC reached the conclusion it did and to say that with regard to the groundwater that some tests had been done for “phosphates and all that stuff and there’s none so that clears that up”

Unfortunately, as a consequence of this misrepresentation of the facts, surrounding groundwater contamination, parents may now believe the matter to be resolved. This is clearly not the case at all.

It's probably worth quoting two comment Prof. London made later, at that meeting. He can be heard at about 40 min into the DVD recording.
This was in response to a query regarding residues that may remain after spraying but he could equally have been referring to this testing of the groundwater.

"I wouldn't believe a study that said there was doesn't make gets into the environment."

A follow-on question regarding the risk possibly posed by the breakdown products and their residues was then answered by the Professor.

It would be; "very unusual for any sort of agricultural spray activity not to result in a certain amount of residue and contamination and run off"

I’m criticising the EHC’s handling of this topic because I feel that, yet again, the EHC demonstrates it’s lack of expertise and thoroughness in dealing with this very complex issue. I have to question the school’s wisdom in asking completely unqualified parents to advise on school policy with regard to our children’s health and safety.