Children and pesticide exposure

Pesticide use and related health impacts for children are of major concern for parents for a number of reasons:

  • Infants and children eat and drink more in relation to their body weight than adults, which can lead to an increase in pesticide exposure.
  • Children behaviors such as putting things in their mouth or playing on floors or outdoor yards can increase their exposure to pesticides.
  • Internal organs are still developing, including immune and excretory systems, which may not have the ability to fully remove or process a pesticide from a child’s system.

A 2010 study published in the medical journal Pediatrics also raised concerns about the effects of organophosphates used on fruits and vegetables. The findings link children’s attention-deficit disorder (ADHD) with the commonly used class of pesticides.

The study showed kids with higher levels of the pesticide are twice as likely to have ADHD. The findings are based on one-time urine samples in 1,139 children and interviews with their parents to determine which children had ADHD.

About 150 children in the study either showed the severe inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity characteristic of ADHD, or were taking drugs to treat it. Levels of six pesticide compounds were measured.

For the most frequent compound detected, 20 percent of children with above-average levels had ADHD. In children with no detectable amount in their urine, 10 percent had ADHD.

Several studies in the late 1990s linked pesticide exposure to decreased memory and a drop in IQ in children who were exposed in the womb to organophosphates. One such study in California followed these children until age 7 and compared their development to children who were not exposed and found a seven point difference in IQ.

There are several ways for a child to be exposed to pesticides at home: consuming fresh fruit and vegetables, or being exposed to insect repellant, weed killer, flea products, rat poisons, treated wood, pool chemicals, paints, and wallpaper just to name a few.

Reducing a child’s pesticide exposure risk can be accomplished using the integrated pest management system (IPM). Preventing pests in the first place is one of the goals of IPM. First, control the environment so pests cannot thrive or multiply by doing the following:

  • Immediately clean food and drink spills to deprive the pest a food source.
  • Keep food in tightly sealed containers.
  • Remove clutter from around the home.
  • Seal any cracks or holes inside or outside of your home.
  • Keep your lawn mowed, weeds pulled and your landscape free of debris. This discourages pests from nesting in your yard.

Employing these techniques won’t prevent all pests from invading your area, but pest reduction reduces the need for chemicals. If pesticides are needed, start with the least toxic and follow directions carefully. You can also consult a licensed pest specialist.

Exposure to pesticide residue on fruits and vegetables is a little different to control and monitor. Proper produce washing and eating a variety of fruits and vegetables can limit overall consumption of pesticide residue. According to the EPA, the health benefits of eating fresh produce outweigh the risks of consuming pesticide residue.

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