Pesticides are used in many products and may affect children’s health in a variety of ways. However, there are things parents can do to protect their children from pesticides where they live and play.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) policy statement, Pesticide Exposure in Children, and accompanying
technical report highlights some of the major health concerns linked to pesticide exposure—particularly prenatal exposure. Pesticide exposure during pregnancy may lead to an increased risk of birth defects, low birth weight, and fetal death. Exposure in childhood has been linked to attention and learning problems, as well as cancer.
Children at Higher Risk for Exposure
Children are at higher risk for health effects from exposure to pesticides than adults, because their internal organs are still developing and maturing. They can come into contact with pesticides stored or applied in their homes, yards, child care centers, schools, parks, or on pets. Young children, as parents know, love to put their hands in their mouth. They also crawl and play on floors, grass, or in spaces that might contain pesticides. Because pesticides are still in many places in our environment, a child’s amount of exposure can add up quickly.
Pesticides are still found in:
These exposures usually do not lead to instant poisoning symptoms. However, studies suggest that exposure may affect healthy child development.
Poisons are absorbed through the skin, by the mouth, or by breathing sprays, dusts, or vapors. You or your children can be poisoned if you apply or are present during application of the chemical. Also if you touch contaminated grass, shoes, clothing, lawn furniture, etc., or put contaminated objects (e.g., toys, grass, etc.) or fingers in the mouth.
In recent years, products with some highly toxic pesticide ingredients have been removed from store shelves. And while more education on pesticides and better packaging have helped, thousands of cases of pesticide
poisonings are still reported to US Poison Control Centers every year.
Signs of pesticide poisoning:
The signs of pesticide poisoning may look like the flu. If your child shows any of the following signs after coming in contact with a pesticide, call the Poison Control Centers national hotline phone number, 1(800)222-1222, right away.
Tips to Reduce Your Child's Chances of Pesticide Poisoning:
Reducing your child’s exposure to pesticides is not difficult, so start today!
Reduce exposure to pesticides in foods. Organic produce has been found to have less pesticides and a potentially lower risk of exposure to drug-resistant bacteria. However, the most important thing for children is to eat a wide variety of produce, whether it's conventional or organic. See the AAP clinical report, Organic Foods: Health and Environmental Advantages and Disadvantages, for more information.
Wash and scrub fruits and veggies with water. This will reduce any pesticide residue remaining on the surface. See the Environmental Working Group (EWG) Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce.
Store chemicals safely to reduce the risks for children. Keep these common household pesticides out of children's reach and never put poisonous products in containers that could be mistaken for food or drink:
Bath and kitchen disinfectants and sanitizers—including bleach
Products used to kill mold or mildew
Roach sprays and baits
Rat and other rodent poisons
Flea and tick shampoos, powders and dips for pets
Swimming pool chemicals
Read pesticide labels first. Follow the directions as they are written on the label before using a product. For example, pesticides you use to control fleas and ticks on your pets can be transferred to your children. Protect your pets and children by carefully following the label directions and precautions.
Never use bug bombs or broad spraying pesticides. Use chemical-free pest control products or the least toxic method for common household and garden pest problems. When chemicals are necessary, the AAP recommends the use of less-toxic choices, such as boric acid in crevices or bait stations and gels, which minimize exposure to children. Simple actions such as maintaining a clean home, taking out the trash, eliminating household sources of moisture and storing food properly can help the situation. These practices should take place in homes and schools to avoid having to use pesticides.
Children should not participate in the application of fertilizer. Kids should stay off the lawn after a chemical fertilizer has been applied until it's been exposed to at least a quarter inch of rain or a good watering. Then, wait at least 24 hours before you allow kids to play on the lawn.
Do not use lindane on children. Talk with your child's pediatrician about head lice control without pesticides.
If you work with pesticides, be sure you don't "take them home" on your clothes and shoes. Try to change clothes before coming home and remove and store shoes outside.
Work with schools and government agencies to encourage the use of products with the least-toxic pesticides. Promote community "right-to-know" procedures when pesticide spraying occurs in public areas.
Additional Information & Resources: