Pesticides & Kids – why you should be concerned

We are adding more chemicals in one form or another to our soil, food, water and homes. Is this a healthy trend?

By Karen R. Forbes Posted Jan 28, 2009

Many of us have memories of rolling on the lawn as a child while making necklaces by chaining dandelions together. Over the years the grass around our houses has taken on a more ominous appearance and dandelions are scarce. We are adding more chemicals in one form or another to our soil, food, water and homes. Is this a healthy trend? We need to ask about the possible negative health affects we are risking just to be germ, bug and weed-free. There is an overwhelming amount of research surfacing indicating that living in a chemical world is taking its toll and it is the children, the chronically ill and the elderly that are most at risk.

A National Cancer Institute study found children’s risk of developing childhood leukemia increased six fold among those living where pesticides were used in the home and garden. In addition, researchers claim they can identify most of the pesticides used in the home and immediate neighborhood by testing the residues in the carpet and underlay. When we consider that children spend more time than adults going barefoot, rolling on lawns, making mud pies and eating dirt, it makes more sense to avoid using chemical lawn and garden products in our own yards as well as encouraging our neighbors to do the same. We can avoid tracking in soil contaminants by having everyone remove their shoes at the door. Using natural methods to build up the health of our lawn and garden increases their resistance to weeds and pests. Perhaps we can learn to tolerate a few weeds.

In a survey of New York it was found that 87% of the state’s schools use pesticides containing substances that cause immediate and long-term health problems. As a result of this type of exposure children may exhibit a reduction or inability to pay attention in school, diminished IQ, hyperactivity, aggression, unruliness and sleepiness. The more serious long-term consequence is damaged immune systems that affect the ability to ward off serious illness or cancer.

Doris Rapp, MD. author and researcher has written several books on allergies and the connection to learning and behavior problems in children. She writes that “Herbicides are pesticides kill more than weeds, can be neuro toxic or potentially harmful to the brain, nervous and hormonal systems of pets and humans as well as to insects. Why tolerate brain-damaging substances in or near our schools, or anywhere else?” This statement should make us think about why such a large number of children appear to have learning problems and what they may be exposed to at school and at home. Non-toxic methods to least-toxic alternatives are available. If a potentially toxic substance must be used it should be applied while children are away and as little as possible used to do the job.

Many parents have panicked when faced with a child who comes home with head lice or scabies and have used a shampoo containing a pesticide on the child’s head. A common active ingredient is Lindane, an organochlorine related to the now banned DDT that may result in seizures or severe mental retardation. Here, the non-toxic alternative is to use coconut or olive oil based soaps as they have natural insecticidal properties. Saturate the hair and scalp in olive oil and wrap in a towel overnight. Use a nit comb in the morning to remove the dead lice and nits.

Common sense tells us there should be a system in place to protect the consumer such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) which, as it turns out, registers pesticides and herbicides but is not a consumer product safety program. It determines whether or not the product will kill its target. Of the 600 active pesticide ingredients they have registered the EPA will provide safety assurance for only six of them.

Even if pesticide is banned it can be legally used as an inert filler and in some cases 99% of a pesticide’s ingredients may be inert. This makes a strong case for going organic in your home and shopping habits. Since children eat mush more in the way of fruit and vegetables than adults per pound of body weight and because their immune systems are not yet fully developed, attention should be paid as to whether the food is sprayed with pesticides or herbicides. Some pesticides can be reduced by washing or cooking but many are systemic, becoming part of the fruit. For those unable to afford buying only organic products, your least-risk choices should be those fruits which can be peeled such as bananas and citrus fruits.

This article was written by Karen R. Forbes, former editor of the Ecological Health Alliance Support News, who researches and writes on the issue of health and its connection to environmental and chemical exposures.