Facts and Figures Children, Pesticides, and Schools

A Beyond Pesticides Factsheet

Children are Especially Vulnerable to Toxics

The National Academy of Sciences finds that children are more susceptible to chemicals.[i]

Children take in more pesticides relative to body weight than adults and have developing organ systems that are more vulnerable and less able to detoxify toxic chemicals.[ii]

Pesticides can increase susceptibility to certain cancers by breaking down the immune system's surveillance against cancer cells. Infants and children, the aged and the chronically ill are at greatest risk from chemically induced immune-suppression.[iii]

Exposure to herbicides (weed killers) before the age of one is linked to a more than four-fold increase in childhood asthma.[iii]a

Children and Cancer

The probability of an effect such as cancer, which requires a period of time to develop after exposure, is enhanced if exposure occurs early in life.[iv]

The rate of childhood cancer is increasing approximately 1% on average per year,[v] and cancer is the leading cause of death by disease among non-infant children under the age of 15. [vi]

According to EPA’s Guidelines for Carcinogen Risk Assessment, children receive 50 per-cent of their lifetime cancer risks in the first two years of life.[vi]a

Between 1973 and 1991, the overall incidence of childhood cancer increased 10%. Soft tissue sarcoma and brain cancer incidence increased more than 25%.[vii]

Children with brain cancer are more likely than normal controls to have been exposed to insecticides in the home.[viii]

A study sponsored by the National Cancer Institute indicates that household and garden pesticide use can increase the risk of childhood leukemia as much as seven-fold.[ix]

Studies show that children living in households where pesticides are used suffer elevated rates of leukemia, brain cancer and soft tissue sarcoma.[x]

The most commonly used non-agriculture herbicide, 2,4-D,[xi] has been linked to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in scientific studies.[xii]

Other Health Hazards Associated with Pesticides

Health effects of 48 commonly used pesticides in schools: 22 are probable or possible carcinogens, 26 have been shown to cause reproductive effects, 31 damage the nervous system, 31 injure the liver or kidney, 41 are sensitizers or irritants, and 16 can cause birth defects.[xiii]

Symptoms of exposure to commonly used pesticides: nausea, dizziness, headaches, aching joints, disorientation, inability to concentrate, vomiting, convulsions, skin irritations, flu-like symptoms and asthma-like problems.[xiv]

In a comparative study in Mexico, children exposed to pesticides demonstrated decreases in stamina, coordination, memory, and the ability to draw familiar subjects.[xv]

Animal studies link pesticides in the organochlorine, organophosphate (OP), and pyrethroid families to hyperactivity. OPs are also linked to developmental delays, behavioral disorders and motor dysfunction in animal studies.[xvi]

An internal Office of Pesticide Program, US EPA, memo states that further studies need be conducted, because of  "evidence that odor and petroleum-related carriers" in OP pesticide products may be contributing to neurobehavioral effects in people exposed to OPs.[xvii]

US EPA and Dow AgroSciences recently agreed to phase-out chlorpyrifos (DursbanTM), one of the most commonly used insecticides in schools, because of its high risks to children, after allowing it to be used in schools and homes for the past 30 years. Although it can be purchased until 12/31/01, chlorpyrifos products can continue to be used in schools until existing stocks are used.[xviii]

Accumulation of Residues after Pesticide Applications

A 1998 study found that chlorpyrifos accumulated on furniture, toys and other sorbant surfaces up to two weeks after application.[xix] A separate study involving chlorpyrifos found substantially higher chlorpyrifos concentrations in the infant breathing zone.[xx]

Airborne concentrations of 7 insecticides were tested 3 days following their application in separate rooms. Six of the seven pesticides left residues behind through the third day.[xxi]

A 1996 study found that 2,4-D can be tracked from lawns into homes, leaving residues of the herbicide in carpets.[xxii]

EPA's Non-Occupational Pesticide Exposure Study (NOPES) found that tested households had at least 5 pesticides in indoor air, at levels often 10X greater than levels measured in outdoor air.[xxiii]

Another EPA study found 23 pesticides in indoor household dust and air that was recently applied or used in the home. The study also found residues of pesticides in and around the home even when there had been no known use of them on the premises.[xxiv]

Pesticide Use in Schools

Connecticut schools reported 87% of 77 school districts surveyed sprayed pesticides indoors. Pesticides reportedly applied indoors include organophosphate and carbamate insecticides that may adversely affect the human nervous system via cholinesterase inhibition.[xxv]

Washington schools reported 88% of 33 school districts surveyed use one or more pesticides that can cause cancer, or damage the nervous system, hormone system or reproductive system.[xxvi]

California schools reported 93% of 46 school districts surveyed use pesticides, 87% reported using one or more of 27 hazardous pesticides that can cause cancer, affect the reproductive system, mimic the hormone system or act as a nerve toxin.[xxvii]

Integrated Pest Management  (IPM)

The National PTA issued a position statement in 1992 stating that "The National PTA is particularly concerned about the use of pesticides in and around schools and child care centers because children are there for much of their young lives. The National PTA ... supports efforts at the federal, state, and local levels, to eliminate the environmental health hazards caused by pesticide use in and around schools and childcare centers [and] encourage the integrated pest management approach to managing pests and the environment in schools and child care centers."[xxviii]

The American Medical Association's Council on Scientific Affairs states that "Particular uncertainty exists regarding the long-term health effects of low-dose pesticide exposure. . Considering these data gaps, it is prudent . to limit pesticides exposures . and to use the least toxic chemical pesticide or non chemical alternative."[xxix]

Maryland schools reported 100% of 17 school districts surveyed had adopted integrated pest management (IPM) policies that discourage the routine use of pesticides.

Albert Greene, National IPM Coordinator for the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), has implemented IPM in 30 million square feet, approximately 7,000 federal buildings, in the capital area without spraying toxic insecticides. Greene has stated, "that it can be pragmatic, economical, and effective on a massive scale."[xxx]

According to the US EPA, "preliminary indications from IPM programs in school systems suggest that long term costs of IPM may be less than a conventional pest control program."[xxxi]


[i] National Research Council, National Academy of Sciences, Pesticides in the Diets of Infants and Children, National Academy Press, Washington, DC, 1993: 184-185.

[ii] US EPA, Office of the Administrator, Environmental Health Threats to Children, EPA 175-F-96-001, September 1996.

[iii] Repetto, R., et al., Pesticides and Immune System: The Public Health Risk, World Resources Institute, Washington, DC, March 1996.

[iii]a Boise, Phil., et al., "GreenCare for Children. Measuring Environmental Hazards in the Childcare Industry: Pesticides, Lead, and Indoor Air Quality," Community Environmental Council. 2004.

[iv] Vasselinovitch, S., et al., "Neoplastic Response of Mouse Tissues During Perinatal Age Periods and Its Significance in Chemical Carcinogensis," Perinatal Carcinogenesis, National Cancer Institute Monograph 51, 1979.

[v] Cushman, J., "U.S. Reshaping Cancer Strategy as Incidence in Children Rises," New York Times, September 29, 1997.

[vi] American Cancer Society, Cancer Facts and Figures, Oakland, CA, 1996.

[vi]aU.S. EPA. 2003. Draft Final Guidelines for Carcinogen Risk Assessment. EPA/630/P-03/001A Washington, DC. http://epa.gov/ncea/raf/cancer2003.htm. (accessed July 9,2004)

[vii] Ries, L., edited by Harras, A., Cancer Rates and Risks, National Institutes of Heath Publication No. 96-691, May 1996.

[viii] Gold, E. et al., "Risk Factors for Brain Tumors in Children," American Journal of Epidemiology 109(3): 309-319, 1979.

[ix] Lowengart, R. et al., "Childhood Leukemia and Parent's Occupational and Home Exposures, " Journal of the National Cancer Institute 79:39, 1987.

[x] Gold, E. et al., "Risk Factors for Brain Tumors in Children," American Journal of Epidemiology 109(3): 309-319, 1979; Lowengart, P., et al., "Childhood Leukemia and Parents' Occupational and Home Exposures," Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Vol. 79, No. 1, pp.39-45, 1995; Reeves, J., "Household Insecticide-Associated Blood Dyscrasias in Children," (letter) American Journal of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology 4:438-439, 1982;  Davis, J., et al., "Family Pesticide Use and Childhood Brain Cancer, " Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology 24:87-92, 1993; Leiss, J., et al., "Home Pesticide Use and Childhood Cancer: A Case-Control Study," American Journal of Public Health 85:249-252, 1995; Buckley, J., et al., "Epidemiological characteristics of Childhood Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia," Leukemia 8(5):856-864, 1994.

[xi] Whitmore, R., et al., "National Home and Garden Pesticide Use Survey Final Report," Research Triangle Park, NC: Research Triangle Institute, March 1992.

[xii] Hoar, S., et al., "Agricultural Herbicide Use and a Risk of Lymphoma and Soft-Tissue Sarcoma, "Journal of the American Medical Association, 259(9): 1141-1147, 1986; Wigle, D., et al., "Mortality Study of Canadian Farm Operators: Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma Mortality and Agricultural Practices in Saskatchewan," Journal of the National Cancer Institute 82(7):575-582, 1990; Woods, J., "Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma Among Phenoxy Herbicide-Exposed Farm Workers in Western Washington State," Chemosphere 18(1-6):401-406, 1989; Zahm, S., et al., "A Case Control Study of Non-Hodkin's Lymphoma on the Herbicide 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) in Eastern Nebraska" Epidemiology 1(5):349-356, 1990.

[xiii]See Health Effects of 48 Commonly Used Pesticides in Schools, Beyond Pesticides/NCAMP Factsheet, August 2000.

[xiv] Bushnell, P., et al., "Behavioral and Neurochemical Effects of Acute Chlorpyrifos in Rats: Tolerance to Prolonged Inhibition of Chloinesterase, "Journal of Pharmacology Exper. Thera.. 266(2): 1007-1017, 1993; Volberg, D. et al., Pesticides in Schools: Reducing the Risks, Robert Abrams, Attorney General of the New York State Department of Law, Environmental Protection Bureau, New York, March 1993.

[xv] Guillette, E., et al., "An Anthropological Approach to the Evaluation of Preschool Children Exposed to Pesticides in Mexico," Environmental Health Perspectives, 106(6):347-353, 1998.

[xvi] Shettler, T., et al., "Known and suspected developmental neurotoxicants," In Harms Way: Toxic Threats to Child Development, Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility: Cambridge, MA, 2000.

[xvii] Darcy, S., "Chlorpyrifos, Diazinon Rank High in Residential Child Poisoning Incidents, EPA Internal Memo Says," Pesticide Report, vol. 3, no. 3, July 9, 1999, citing an Blondell, J., "Review of Poison Control Center Data for Residential Exposures to Organophosphate Pesticides, 1993-1996," U.S EPA Memorandum, February 11, 1999.

[xviii] U.S. EPA, Chlorpyrifos Revised Risk Assessment and Agreement with Registrants, Washington, DC June 2000.

[xix] Gurunathan, S., et al.,  "Accumulation of Chlorypyrifos on Residential Surfaces and Toys Accessible to Children," Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol. 106, No. 1, January 1998.

[xx] Fenske, R. et al., "Potential Exposure and Health Risks of Infants following Indoor Residential Pesticide Applications," American Journal of Public Health 80(6): 689-693, 1990.

[xxi] Wright, C., et al., "Insecticides in the Ambient Air of Rooms Following Their Application for Control of Pests," Bulletin of Environmental Contamination  & Toxicology, 26, 548-553, 1981.

[xxii] Nishioka, M., et al., "Measuring Transport of Lawn-Applied Herbicide Acids from Turf to Home: Correlation of Dislodgeable 2,4-D Turf Residues with Carpet Dust and Carpet Surface Residues," Environmental Science Technology, 30:3313-3320, 1996.

[xxiii] U.S. EPA, "Nonoccupational Pesticide Exposure Study" (NOPES), Atmospheric Research and Exposure Assessment Laboratory, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, EPA/600/3-90/003, January 1990.

[xxiv] Lewis, R., et al., "Determination of Routes of Exposure of Infants and Toddlers to Household Pesticides: A Pilot Study," Methods of Research Branch, U.S. EPA, Research Triangle Park, NC, 1991.

[xxv]Addis, S., et al., Pest Control Practices in Connecticut Public Schools, Environment & Human Health, Inc., 1999.

[xxvi] Loudon, E., Weed Wars: Pesticide Use in Washington Schools, Washington Toxics Coalition, Seattle, WA, June, 1999.

[xxvii] Kaplan, J., Failing Health: Pesticide Use in California Schools, California Public Interest Research Group, San Francisco, CA, 1998

[xxviii] National PTA, The Use of Pesticides in Schools and Child Care Centers, Position Statement adopted by the Board of Directors, 1992.

[xxix] Cox, C., "Jimmy and Jane's Day: A Precautionary Tale," J. of Pesticide Reform (18)2, 1998, citing American Medical Association, Council of Scientific Affairs, "Education and informational strategies to reduce pesticide risk," Prevention Medicine 26:191-200, 1997.

[xxx] Greene, A., "Integrated Pest Management for Buildings," Pesticides and You, 1993, article adapted from transcript of an address to Canada's Department of National Defense Pest Management Advisory Committee, Montreal, Quebec, November 19, 1992.

[xxxi] U.S. EPA, Pest Control in the School Environment: Adopting Integrated pest Management, 735-F-93-012, August 1993.