US farm children at risk from pesticides

Issue 

US farm children at risk from pesticides

Children living on or near farms in the United States face disproportionately high exposure to dangerous pesticides, putting them at serious risk for adverse health effects, according to a new report by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

The report, "Trouble on the Farm: Growing Up With Pesticides in Agricultural Communities", shows that this special population, including more than 500,000 children under the age of six, is surrounded by a virtual sea of pesticides.

Agricultural insecticides and weed killers too toxic to be legally used indoors have been documented inside farm homes, on children's hands and in their urine. Concentrations of these chemicals, when quantified, have sometimes exceeded current regulatory "safe" levels.

The release of the report was accompanied by an administrative petition to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) signed by more than 50 labour, health and environmental organizations, asking that farm children's special exposures be taken into account when determining so-called "safe" tolerances of agricultural chemicals.

Pesticides can have an array of adverse health impacts in humans, ranging from acute poisonings to cancer, brain damage and reproductive harm. Recent studies have linked pesticides with childhood leukaemia, kidney tumours, brain tumours and learning and memory problems.

Children face particular risks due to their smaller size and hand-to-mouth habits, and because their developing bodies and brains are more susceptible to toxins.

The report's findings include:

  • Atrazine was detected inside all houses of Iowan farm families sampled in a small study during the application season, and in only 4% of 362 non-farm homes.

  • Neurotoxic organophosphate pesticides have been detected on the hands of farm children at levels that could result in exposures above EPA-designated safe levels.

  • Metabolites of organophosphate pesticides used only in agriculture were detectable in the urine of two out of every three children of agricultural workers and in four out of every 10 children who simply live in an agricultural region.

Under the Food Quality Protection Act of 1996, EPA is required to take into consideration children's special vulnerability to pesticides and to evaluate all routes of exposure to these hazardous chemicals.

"Unfortunately, EPA's record in enforcing the child protection requirements of the law has been poor", says NRDC's Gina Solomon, the report's principal author.

[From Pesticide Action Network North America Updates Service.]

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