Hazards of Pesticides for Children’s Health

Children face much higher hazards than adults from pesticide exposure. Their small size and developing organ systems, propensity to crawl and play near the ground, tendency for frequent hand to mouth motion, and greater intake of air and food relative to body weight make them particularly susceptible. Many of these risks start before a child is born, indicating the need for pregnant mothers to take particular care to avoid contact with hazardous pesticides.

The probability of an effect such as cancer, which requires a period of time to develop after exposure, is increased if exposure occurs early in life, during what scientists have coined “critical windows of vulnerability.”

The hazards borne by children in these “windows of vulnerability” have critical implications for long-term health. One of the most important windows is preconception exposure – with risks ranging from birth defects to cancer.

Increased vulnerability continues throughout childhood, putting kids at increased risk of cancer, developmental delays, and learning disabilities.

  • A Harvard meta-analysis published in Pediatrics determined there to be a significantly increased risk of leukemia associated from herbicide exposure during childhood, which the authors indicate could occur at child care facilities, on athletic fields, and school grounds. (Daily News coverage)

  • Young infants and toddlers exposed to herbicides within their first year of life are 4.5 times more likely to develop asthma by the age of five, and almost 2.5 times more likely when exposed to insecticides, according to research published in Environmental Health Perspectives.

  • A study in Environmental Health finds that boys with detectable urinary 3-PBA, a biomarker for exposure to synthetic pyrethroid insecticides, are three times more likely to have ADHD compared to those without detectable levels of the chemical. (Daily News coverage)

  • A study in Environmental Health Perspectives finds that early childhood exposure to pesticides increases asthma risk by age 5, with exposures in the first year of life having the greatest impact on occurrence. (See Beyond Pesticides’ Asthma, Children, and Pesticides brochure, also available en Español)

  • Research published in The FASEB Journal by Rutgers University scientists finds that exposure to the synthetic pyrethroid deltamethrin corresponded to a higher likelihood of a child having ADHD. (Daily News coverage)

Jason Richardson, PhD, associate professor in the Department and Environmental and Occupational Medicine at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School said of this study, “Although we can’t change genetic susceptibility to ADHD, there may be modifiable environmental factors, including exposures to pesticides that we should be examining in more detail.”Speaking in reference to a report published in the journal Endocrinology in 2015, Phillipe Grandjean, MD, professor of environmental health at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said in a statement, “Unfortunately, current testing paradigms do not properly assess the impact of risk factors during vulnerable exposure windows. Without new policies and guidelines, we cannot have a universal healthy start for children.”

Find out more about the link between pesticide exposure and diseases that stress health, education, and social care systems, and family budgets by viewing Beyond Pesticides Daily News archives on Children and Schools and the Pesticide Induced Diseases Database.

You can also hear the science behind the hazards pesticides pose to children’s health straight from the experts. Watch the videos below from Beyond Pesticides National Pesticide Forum:

"Health Effects of Pesticide Use: Children and the Community"

From Beyond Pesticides 37th National Pesticide Forum in New York, New York. Featuring: Virginia Rauh, ScD, deputy director, Center for Children’s Environmental Health; professor, Population and Family Health, Columbia University Medical Center, New York, NY; Routt Reigart, MD, professor emeritus of pediatrics, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, SC; president, Beyond Pesticides; Jia Chen, ScD, professor, Environmental Medicine and Public Health, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, NY; Caroline Cox, moderator, senior scientist, Center for Environmental Health, Oakland, CA; board member, Beyond Pesticides

"Protecting Family Health and the Environment"

From Beyond Pesticides 36th National Pesticide Forum in Irvine, California. Featuring: Dean Baker, MD, MPH, former director, Center for Occupational and Environmental Health, and Professor of Medicine, Epidemiology, and Public Health at UC Irvine