Daily News Archive
From June 1, 2005

Pesticide Drift Sickens Students, Closes Elementary School
(Beyond Pesticides, June 1, 2005)
A Texas elementary school was evacuated and shut down for a week after insecticides that were sprayed on a nearby cotton field drifted onto the school property and sickened students and staff members. The chemicals sprayed contained the active ingredients lambda-cyhalothrin, a synthetic pyrethroid, and dimethoate, an organophosphate. Dozens of students at San Carlos Elementary School were sickened by the exposure and experienced symptoms of nausea and skin and breathing irritation. Over 550 other students and staff members also came in contact with the chemicals, reports KGBT4 News. The Texas Department of Agriculture is currently investigating whether the farmer who sprayed the chemicals is at fault.

Synthetic pyrethroids such as lambda-cyhalothrin are known to cause or exacerbate asthma symptoms and have neurotoxic and endocrine-disrupting effects. Organophosphate pesticides such as dimethoate have been shown to cause genetic damage that is linked to neurological disorders including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and Parkinson's disease. In a 1999 EPA report, dimethoate, along with three other pesticides, was said to be responsible for 90% of pesticide exposures reported in children under six to Poison Control Centers from 1993-1996. Dimethoate is also among four pesticides that had consistently high rankings of responsibility for adverse symptoms, health care visits, hospitalizations, and fatal outcomes in adults and children.

In recent years, 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 and engage 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. Studies also show that children exposed to pesticides suffer elevated rates of leukemia, brain cancer, and soft tissue sarcoma. Because most of the symptoms of pesticide exposure, from respiratory distress to difficulty in concentration, that are common in school children may also have other causes, pesticide-related illnesses often go unrecognized and unreported.

To learn more about school pesticide poisonings around the country, see our index of poisoning cases and see Daily News stories.

Buffer zones, areas where pesticide spray applications are prohibited, can help reduce 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.