Daily News Archives

Pesticide Drift Sends Students To Hospitals
(Beyond Pesticides, June 2, 2004)
Recent pesticide-poisoning incidents in Massachusetts, California and New York exemplify the need for better regulations to protect school children from pesticide drift. Pesticide drift is an inevitable problem in pest management strategies that rely on spray and dust pesticides. Three incidents in one month show that it is a problem that government and school officials need to address.

On May 21st, the Spofford Pond Elementary School in Boxford, Massachusetts was evacuated after a pesticide, containing the active ingredient malathion, drifted onto the school property after a neighbor applied it to his property, according to the Tri-Town Transcript. Seven children reported feeling dizzy and nauseous from inhaling the strong odor that overtook several of the schools' classrooms. It was reported that the chemical spray was carried 200 feet into an open window at the school. The fire chief, Peter Perkins, told the Transcript, "The homeowner had no idea that what he was doing was causing a problem." Two children later went to the hospital.

A similar incident took place earlier that week at the Terrace View Elementary School in Grand Terrace, California. Students got sick from pesticides drifting onto the school property on May 19th, according to the Mercury News. Twenty-one students complained of nausea and stomach cramps and were taken to a nearby hospital. Local authorities believe that the students feel ill after inhaling fumes released from a malathion container that was on a field adjacent to the school. The school closed early that day.

And just a month ago, the May 4th Daily News article "Students Exposed to Pesticides" reported that fifteen high-school students in Bronx, New York were treated after exposure to an herbicide that park employees were spraying nearby.

These three incidents build on other reported incidents from around the country. "There are thousands of reported complaints of off-target spray drift each year," states the U.S. EPA. In 1998, nearly one-third of the reported pesticide illness cases in California were individuals who were exposed as a result of pesticide drift. And between 1993 and 1998, approximately 1,384 drift complaints were received and investigated by the four state departments of agriculture in EPA-Region VII.

The vulnerability of children to the harmful effects of pesticides has attracted national attention. EPA, the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Public Health Association, among others, have voiced concerns about the danger that pesticides pose to children. Children face higher risks than adults from pesticide exposure due to their small size, tendency to place their hands close to their face, engaging in activities on or near the ground, greater intake of air and food relative to body weight, developing organ systems, and other unique characteristics.

The body of evidence in scientific literature shows that pesticide exposure can adversely affect a child's neurological, respiratory, immune, and endocrine system, even at low levels. A 2003 study published in Nature Genetics found organophosphate pesticides cause genetic damage linked to neurological disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and Parkinson's disease. Several pesticides, such as pyrethrins and pyrethroids, organophosphates and carbamates, are also known to cause or exacerbate asthma symptoms. Because most of the symptoms of pesticide exposure, from respiratory distress to difficulty in concentration, are common in school children and may also have other causes, pesticide-related illnesses often go unrecognized and unreported.

Studies also show that children exposed to pesticides suffer elevated rates of leukemia, brain cancer, and soft tissue sarcoma. According to EPA's Guidelines for Carcinogen Risk Assessment, children receive 50 percent of their lifetime cancer risks in the first two years of life. And a National Cancer Institute researcher who matched pesticide data and medical records in ten California agricultural counties recently reported that pregnant women living within nine miles of farms where pesticides are sprayed on fields may have an increased risk of losing an unborn baby to birth defects.

TAKE ACTION: Non-toxic pest management strategies should be implemented in order to protect the environment and human health from hazardous pesticides. Support organic agriculture. Buffer zones, areas where pesticide spray applications are prohibited, can help reduce unconsented exposure from spray drift. According to Beyond Pesticides' report "The Schooling of State Pesticide Laws - 2002 Update," seven states have recognized the importance of controlling drift by restricting pesticide applications around schools. Find out what state laws and local policies govern your school. Contact Beyond Pesticides to learn more about ways to mitigate, detect and protect yourself from pesticide drift.