By Healthy Child Honorary Board member Dr. Phil Landrigan, Mount Sinai School of Medicine
As long ago as 1979 the Surgeon General’s Report on Health Promotion and Disease Prevention remarked, “There is virtually no major chronic disease to which environmental factors do not contribute, either directly or indirectly.”
Children are more susceptible than adults to these environmental risks because of their physiology and behavior. They not only eat and drink more but they breathe more air in proportion to their body weight. A child’s increased contact with floors, soil in lawns and playgrounds, and frequent hand to mouth activity dramatically increases the chances of exposure. Children are being exposed to pesticides in their homes, yards, day care settings and schools. About one-fourth of the over 1 billion pounds of pesticides used annually in the United States are applied in these settings.
Although pesticides have played a significant role in eliminating diseases and increasing food production, exposure to these chemicals can be harmful to humans.
- Short or long term exposures are possible through ingestion, skin contact or inhalation.
- Pesticide poisoning can cause acute symptoms, which range from headaches, nausea, rashes, respiratory and eye irritation, headaches and in more severe instances burns, paralysis and even death.
- In addition, scientific studies have linked exposures to cancer, neurotoxicity, birth defects, reproductive disorders, kidney and liver damage.
Beyond Pesticides has posted an excellent resource sheet detailing the Health Effects of Toxic Pesticides as part of the Safety Source section of their website.
Many commonly used household products are pesticides. Examples include:
- cockroach sprays and baits;
- insect repellents;
- flea and tick sprays, powders and pet collars;
- products that attack mold and mildew;
- bathroom disinfectants;
- sanitizers; and,
- lawn and garden products, such as weed killers.
The potential for long term exposure, with a long latency period before onset of chronic disease, is obvious.
Parents have the power to exclude these products from their home. They must ask their state legislators to enact legislation to protect their children from exposures in schools and day care centers. Our state governments also have the power to establish state pesticide illness reporting and investigation systems. This would allow scientists to track epidemics, disease clusters, and emerging problems that may place communities at risk. We must all work together to create a safer world for our children.
Notice from 03/21/2011: EPA Warns Online Shoppers about Illegal, Harmful Pesticide Sales