Limiting Children’s Exposure to Pesticides

December 11, 2012

Pesticides are one of those products that can work too well — they are meant to control unwanted bugs and rodents that carry disease, but also have the ability to cause harm to humans if not used correctly. Children in particular are very susceptible to the dangerous side effects of these toxic chemicals.


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Photo by @melisslissliss

By Ashley Hofmann, HSC public policy intern

Ashley Hofmann recently earned her Masters of Social Work from the University of Missouri. Her academic research focuses on disparities in access to health care and how policy can act as a catalyst for social justice.

Pesticides are one of those products that can work too well — they are meant to control unwanted bugs and rodents that carry disease, but also have the ability to cause harm to humans if not used correctly.  Children in particular are very susceptible to the dangerous side effects of these toxic chemicals.  In a new report released by the American Academy of Pediatrics, doctors looked at where children come into contact with pesticides along with the acute and chronic effects of exposure.  

Children can be exposed to pesticides in their backyards and at school, as well as through their diet: eating foods grown using pesticides, even when those pesticides are used within the regulatory limits, can result in higher exposure to pesticides, according to a 2006 study.

While pesticides can have an immediate impact on children if they come into contact with them (such as nausea and respiratory symptoms), the authors’ main concern is what the toxins will do to children over time.  Studies show that chronic exposure to pesticides can lead to pediatric cancers, low IQ, and ADHD.

To limit children’s exposure to pesticides in all their forms, the doctors in the study made several suggestions for pediatricians and governmental agencies, including:

  • Promote the use of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) at home and in schools.  IPM is a process of using the least toxic pesticide to maximize results without causing harm to humans or the environment.
  • Set restrictions on the spray of pesticides around schools and use of certain pesticides inside schools.
  • Require pesticide containers to include labels indicating whether the ingredients (both active and inactive) are known to have harmful acute or chronic side effects on children.  

Let us know:  Do you spray your lawn or apply pesticides to your pets to control fleas and ticks?  Do you have practical tips for using IPM in your home or at your children’s school?