The American Academy of Pediatrics is calling on the government, schools, parents and medical professionals to take concerted action to protect children from pesticides.
The 60,000-member physicians organization is worried about the growing body of scientific evidence that links these toxic chemicals not only to obvious poisoning but also to subtle health problems kids can be particularly vulnerable to.
“Children encounter pesticides daily and have unique susceptibilities to their potential toxicity,” says the pediatricians’ statement, released Nov. 26. "Epidemiologic evidence demonstrates associations between early life exposure to pesticides and pediatric cancers, decreased cognitive function, and behavioral problems."
The group suggests:
Pediatricians need better training on pesticides’ effects, treatment of acute poisoning, ways of addressing more prevalent lower dose chronic exposures in children and pesticide labeling.
They should advise parents on pesticide use at home and in the yard, offer guidance about safe storage, and recommend parents choose lowest-harm approaches when considering pest control.
Doctors should work with schools and government agencies to advocate for the least toxic methods of pest control, and to inform communities when pesticides are being used in the area.
The policy statement also makes nine recommendations for government action on marketing, labeling, use and safety of pesticides to minimize children’s exposure.
An accompanying scientific report, Pesticides Pose Serious Risks to Children, published in the scientific journal Pediatrics, highlights various risks for children, including those living or working on farms and those at risk of acute poisonings or chronic exposures to pesticides used in houses, daycare centers and schools. It warns of exposures in utero and exposure through food and drinking water.
One of the ways in which children are exposed to pesticides is through drift, when chemicals sprayed in a nearby field create a moving, noxious cloud that eventually covers nearby schools or parks or other areas where children live and play. That being said, the report noted that "For many children, diet may be the most influential source of pesticides.”
A related report from the organization’s Council on Environmental Health said, "organic diets have been convincingly demonstrated to expose consumers to fewer pesticides associated with human disease."
Chemical agribusiness spokespeople, including those with the Alliance for Food and Farming, contend that low-level exposures to pesticides pose no risks to human health.
The American Academy of Pediatricians disagrees, saying the evidence showing associations between pesticides and pediatric cancer and adverse neurodevelopment is “robust” and point to a role for insecticides in risk of brain tumors and acute lymphocytic leukemia.
They say U.S. studies show a link between early-life exposure to organophosphate insecticides and reductions in IQ and abnormal behaviors associated with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and autism.
Earthjustice filed a petition with the EPA in 2011 calling on the EPA to adopt rules and interim measures to protect children in rural communities from agricultural pesticide drift. The petition pointed out that current EPA exposure guidelines are for much bigger bodied adults and aren’t suitable to protect kids. In addition to the petition, Earthjustice has filed several other lawsuits seeking to force the EPA to assess pesticide drift risks and implement measures necessary to protect children in agricultural communities from such risks.
Thanks to the Environmental Working Group for information used in this blog post.