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UN Report Says Pesticide Poisoning Disproportionately Affects Children
(Beyond Pesticides, October 14, 2004) Pesticide poisoning is a serious health problem that disproportionately affects infants and children, said a report released last week by three United Nations agencies. The groups urge that steps be taken to minimize children's exposure to pesticides.

An estimated 1 million to 5 million cases of pesticide poisonings occur each year, resulting in several thousand fatalities, many of which are children, according to the report, Childhood Pesticide Poisoning: Information for Advocacy and Action, published by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

According to the report, children face higher risks from pesticides than adults because they may be more susceptible and because they are exposed to more of the chemicals over the course of their lifetime. Most of the poisonings take place in rural areas of developing countries, where safeguards typically are inadequate or lacking altogether. Although developing nations use just a quarter of the world's production of pesticides, 99 percent of the deaths due to pesticide poisoning occur those nations.

Diet and poverty are two of the major sources of exposure for children, the report says. Food and water containing pesticide residues may be a source of chronic, low-level pesticide exposure. Additionally, growing food on or near contaminated soils puts children at risk. Incorrect storage of pesticides in the field or the household may also contaminate food or water.

In poor families where children help on family farms where pesticides are used, pesticide users, including teenagers, may lack access to protective equipment or receive little or no training. Additionally, in many developing countries, the labelling and advertising of pesticides is often uncontrolled or illicit.

To minimize risk, the UN agencies urge reducing and eliminating possible sources of pesticide exposure to children and home and at work, keeping such chemicals out their reach, and cutting down on the use of agricultural pesticides through Integrated Pest Management (IPM). Other steps to reduce the pesticide exposure include training health workers to recognize and manage pesticide poisoning, training people to use pesticides safely, and addressing all aspects of pesticide management from manufacturing until use or disposal.

For more information on chidren and pesticides, visit our Children and Schools program page.