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The Pesticide Issue

Our environment -- the air we breath, food we eat, and even the cleaning chemicals we use -- has undergone dramatic changes in the last few decades. Children are far more susceptible to chemicals and pollutants than adults and the increased rate of childhood illnesses is cause for alarm. Historically, health care systems have focused on treating the symptoms rather than curing the causes.

The Facts

  • Children are exposed to a variety of environmental hazards, including indoor and outdoor air pollution, solvents, pesticides, lead, mercury, and other heavy metals. These contribute to certain childhood diseases, such as asthma and leukemia, and to some learning disabilities.

  • For the past 15 years, an epidemic of childhood asthma has been occurring in the United States. Asthma, leading chronic illness in children of the United States, rates have increased 160% in the past 15 years in children under 5 years of age.

  • Indoor and outdoor air pollution that would produce only slight breathing difficulties in an adult may contribute to a more serious breathing problem in a young child.

  • The impact of increased exposure to adverse environmental factors must be considered as a contributor to the observed increase in chronic diseases and health problems.

  • Currently, there is no system that can document possible links between environmental hazards and chronic diseases the same way that we identify and track infectious disease.

Pesticides & Children

  • Children absorb greater concentrations of pesticides (poisons) per pound of body weight through inhalation, ingestion and contact with the skin.

  • Children are more likely to play on treated floors and grounds. Unwashed hands often find their way to the mouth or to unwrapped snacks.

  • Because many pesticides (poisons) are heavier than air, children's breathing areas are likely to have higher pesticide (poison) concentrations.

  • Children may not read, understand or pay attention to warning signs.

  • A child's biology is different. Their immune system is less developed and may be less protective.

  • Children are extremely vulnerable to classes of synthetic pesticides (poisons) that mimic naturally occurring hormones or enzymes.

  • Developing cells are more easily damaged than cells that have completed development. During the rapid growth period of childhood, cells divide very quickly, making it more likely that a cellular mutation will be reproduced, thus initiating cancer.

  • Because they are younger, children have a longer life span ahead of them for chemically induced health problems to progress.

  • Small doses of neurotoxins can drastically impair the learning process in children.

Texas Pesticides & Children Fact Sheet

April, 2003

In 2002, the Texas Poison Control System of The Texas Department of Health, received calls of pesticide exposure to children under 18 years of age, 4,726, most were to children under age six, 4,326.

Pesticides are poisons, intended to kill living insects, rodents or plants. By their very nature, most pesticides create some risk to all living creatures, including humans.

Children are more vulnerable to pesticides than adults. That's because they are small and their brains, immune system and detoxification organs are still developing. Children are naturally curious, which leads them to touch and taste everything.

What is a pesticide?

The Environmental Protection Agency's definition of a pesticide is any substance or mixture of substances intended for:

  • preventing,
  • destroying,
  • repelling, or
  • mitigating any pest.

Though often misunderstood to refer only to insecticides, the term pesticide also applies to herbicides, fungicides, and various other substances used to control pests.


Safety In Your Home and Yard

Pesticides abound in homes and yard from insect repellant, weed killer, rat poison, some flea shampoos for the dog, pressure treated wood on children's playscape, antimicrobials in pool chemicals, fungicides in paints and wallpaper, pesticides in shelving paper, mothballs, and pesticides in the "edible" waxes on fruits and vegetables, and more. It doesn't take an accident to expose our children to these toxic chemicals. Applying pesticides in home and yard, even when you follow the directions, and using products that contain pesticides means that everyone in home gets ongoing doses that can be harmful over time.


The Risks

A considerable number of pesticides registered by the EPA contain suspected carcinogens. And many pesticides are nerve poisons, which mean they can impact the development of a child's brain. The EPA reports that 75 percent of U.S. households use at least one pesticide product indoors in a given year, and that 80 percent of the typical person's exposure to pesticides occurs indoors.


However, indoor application of pesticides cannot account for the amount of pesticides found in homes studied, according to the EPA. That suggests that we import pesticides inside from outdoors. In fact, indoor dust collects pesticide residues, according to numerous studies. While most pesticides decompose rapidly when exposed to outdoor light and heat, in an indoor environment they can persist, sometimes for years, buried in carpet fibers, furniture, and stuffed toys. There are alternatives though.



Use Integrated Pest Management (IPM) in Home and Yard

Integrated Pest Management is a systematic approach to pest control which relies on prevention, identification, and control by the least harmful means, such as biological controls, before moving on to more toxic methods.

Pest prevention starts with a clean house

Sanitation represents the most basic tenet of Integrated Pest Management, because it deprives pests of food and shelter.

  • Clean food and drink spills immediately to deprive pests of snacks.

  • Remove clutter, such as newspaper stacks, where pests set up house.

  • Seal food in airtight and secure containers.

Maintain your home

  • Repair leaky plumbing, which quenches pests' thirst and moistens their air.
  • Seal cracks and block holes both inside and outside the house to bar pests from entry and freedom of movement.

Take advantage of the food chain

  • Don't mess with Charlotte's web! Spiders serve as natural predators to most pests, so consider spiders as helpful housemates (most spiders are completely harmless.)

  • Welcome ladybugs and other beneficial insects, which feed on aphids, mites, small insects, and insect eggs.

  • Enlist other predatory insects, birds and other wildlife to feast on pests by creating a hospitable habitat in your backyard. For example, bats eat as many as 3,000 insects a night, so build a bat-house in your yard.

Set a trap

  • Corner pests with the help of black lights (which attract moths), pheromones (which take advantage of sexual attraction), sticky paper, and good old fashioned mechanical traps.

  • Use barriers, such as window screens, to prevent pests from slipping in. 

Use least toxic alternatives.
If pest problems persist after you've exhausted all non-toxic alternatives, work your way up the ladder of toxicity slowly, starting with the least toxic alternatives. Beyond Pesticides, a nonprofit organization promoting safe alternatives to toxic pesticides, lists the following pesticides as Least Toxic:

  • boric acid is an insect stomach poison that is less toxic, more effective and more economical than standard chemical pesticides, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
  • silica gels and diatomaceous earth both dehydrate pests
  • insect and rodent baits containing nonvolatile chemicals
  • pesticides made with essential oils, such as garlic, pepper extracts, and citrus oil, among others
  • insecticidal soaps made from fatty acids

Look for an IPM practitioner.
If success in your own pest control efforts eludes you, there are professional pest specialists who practice Integrated Pest Management.

Use mulch to smother weeds.
Covering garden soil with mulch blocks weeds. Use two or three inches of shredded bark, wood chips, straw, cocoa bean hulls, gravel or rocks. The mulches will also keep moisture in the soil so you'll have to water less frequently.

Douse weeds with boiling water.
Weeds, like humans, will burn if exposed to boiling water. This method also kills weed seeds.

Soap weeds to death.
Mixed 5 tablespoons of liquid soap (such as dishwashing liquid) in one quart (4 cups) of water in a spray bottle. Coat the weeds with the soapy water. Works best on hot days.

Pickle weeds with vinegar.
Pour household vinegar into a spray bottle and evenly coat weeds with it. U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists recently confirmed this in tests. Vinegar is really five percent acetic acid in water, and it burns the plant, especially on sunny days. For extra strength weed killer, look for pickling vinegar, which is nine percent acetic acid. Don't get the vinegar on your garden plants, as it can kill them too.

Give weeds a stiff drink of alcohol.
Mix one to five tablespoons of alcohol--depending on how stubborn the weeds are--with one quart (4 cups) of water in a spray bottle. Shower weeds with the spray. Don't let the alcohol get on garden plants as it may damage their leaves.

Mow frequently.
Mow every 5 days and leave grass clippings on the lawn. If you have longer clippings, compost them.

Use native and pest-resistant plant varieties
When landscaping a yard or planning a garden, choose plant varieties that are native to our region and climate. Hearty, native plants resist disease and infestation, and often use less water. 

Include plants and vegetables that repel pests
Identify these plants for you region such as marigolds and garlic.

Pull out and pick off pests
Regularly pulling weeds and picking insects out of lawns and gardens is one of the most effective ways to keep them from spreading.  Learn to identify insect pests.

Attract predators of pests
Protect and encourage the presence of insect-feeding birds, bats, spiders, praying mantises, lady bugs, predatory mites and parasitic flies and wasps.  Beneficial insect species, such as ladybugs, can often be purchased in volume. 

Keep things clean in the yard
Keep areas free of debris to limit nesting sites for insect and animal pests.



Read the reports and studies on children's environmental health by CLICKING HERE.