A Ontario mother is fighting to have oak trees removed near her child’s school, fearing that acorns could pose a deadly threat to students with severe allergies. Donna Giustizia said the young trees on property owned by the City of Vaughan next to St. Stephen Catholic Elementary School are littering the area with acorns. The school, meanwhile, is nut-free to protect students with potentially life-threatening anaphylactic allergies. “A false sense of security is putting a sign on the door that says nut-free and there’s nuts all over the place,” said Giustizia, who has two teenage children with anaphylactic food allergies, one of whom attends St. Stephen.
“I’m not a crazy mom, I’m not asking for anything that’s not already there.” Giustizia appeared before Vaughan’s Committee of the Whole last week to plead for the removal of the trees. Several councillors at the meeting questioned the precedent that removing the trees might set. Councillor Sandra Yeung Racco wondered whether removing these trees would mean having to remove oak trees from other public properties where children with allergies might be exposed. Giustizia, who chairs the school’s allergy committee, said she’s not suggesting the city become nut-free. But she’s worried about children who could come in contact with acorns at school, as well as the stress of being around a potential trigger of an allergic attack.
“The acorns are not only presenting a risk to the tree nut-allergic students but it is also becoming a great cause of anxiety amongst all students with nut allergies,” Giustizia wrote in her request to appear before the committee, adding that acorns “can also be used to bully and torment children.” Councillors referred the matter to staff to prepare a report on the issue. Peanuts and tree nuts are among some of the most frequent triggers for anaphylactic reactions. In recent years, many schools have instated often controversial bans on nuts and other foods that could cause a reaction in some students. Dr. Paul Keith, an allergist at McMaster University, said acorns, if ingested, could trigger a reaction in someone allergic to tree nuts. But acorns are bitter and generally not eaten in North America, he pointed out. “The only situation I could see is if they were bullied and forced to eat them,” said Keith. “You really have to eat them to have a reaction.”
Dr. Maria Asper, a pediatric allergist at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, said skin contact with an allergen could cause a local reaction like redness or hives. “I’m not aware of any reports of children having an anaphylactic reaction upon contact with acorns, so I’m not sure what the risk really is,” she said. “For the most part, as long as they’re just handled and not ingested, there’s no scientific literature to suggest anyone has had a reaction.” May Moore, a spokesperson for York Catholic District School Board, said the board will respect whatever decision the city reaches. Staff at the Woodbridge school are reminding students not to pick up acorns and custodians and administrators routinely go out to clean up the nuts, she said. “Safety is certainly at the forefront,” said Moore. “The school is going above and beyond to pick them up … They’ve been very proactive, they’re doing what they can.”