Pesticides Key Contributor in Childhood Diseases, Highlights Need for Policy Change

(Beyond Pesticides, October 11, 2012)

A new report highlights the growing body of research that links pesticides to the rampant rise of learning disabilities, childhood cancer and asthma in the United States, and calls for swift policy change to protect future generations. In particular, the report points out that children are more sick today than they were a generation ago, confronting serious health challenges from pesticides and other chemical exposures that their parents and grandparents were unlikely to face. This report underscores the importance of changing the individual chemical assessment approach to regulating pesticides, and integrating a systems approach that incorporates organic principles that strive to eliminate unnecessary pesticide use.

The report entitled, A Generation in Jeopardy: How pesticides are undermining our children’s health and intelligence was released by Pesticide Action Network North America (PAN). It draws from academic and government research, focusing on studies published within the past five years, to chronicle the emerging threat of, with over 1 billion pounds applied on farms and homes annually‚ to children’s health. Children and other sensitive sub-populations are exposed to a “toxic soup” of chemicals whose health impacts are not properly understood and clouded in uncertainties which are not captured in current risk assessments. Knowing this, the take home message from this report is the need to shift from systems that depend on toxic pesticides to systems that incorporate organic principles of pest management.

The studies detailed in this report are just the tip of the iceberg. Beyond Pesticides began tracking similar studies with the launch of the Pesticide-Induced Diseases Database (PIDD) in summer 2010, which captures the range of diseases linked to pesticides through epidemiologic studies. The studies in this database support an urgent need to shift to toxic-free practices and policies. The constantly updated database is a tool to support efforts to eliminate the continued use of hazardous pesticides in favor of green strategies that emphasize non-toxic and least-toxic alternative practices and products.

Beyond Pesticides has long called for alternatives assessment in environmental rulemaking that creates a regulatory trigger to adopt alternatives and drive the market to go green. The alternatives assessment approach differs most dramatically from the current approach of risk assessment in rejecting uses and exposures deemed acceptable under risk assessment calculations, but unnecessary because of the availability of safer alternatives. For example, in agriculture, where the PIDD database shows clear links to pesticide use and multiple types of cancer, it would no longer be possible to use hazardous pesticides, as it is with risk assessment-based policy, when there are clearly effective organic systems with competitive yields that, in fact, outperform chemical-intensive agriculture in drought years. This same analysis can be applied to home and garden use of pesticides where households using pesticides suffer elevated rates of cancer.

“Protecting our children from harm is the fundamental duty of parenthood, but how can we do this when developmental toxicants are allowed to freely circulate in our economy?” says Sandra Steingraber, ecologist and acclaimed author. “PAN’s report shines a light on a completely preventable tragedy – that an entire generation of children will not reach its full potential. As such, it describes a violation of human rights and a crisis of family life both. For the healthy development of children to become a national priority, we parents must walk ourselves into the political arena and, waving this good report, speak truth to power.”

The report shines a light on the growing links between exposure to pesticides where children, live, learn and play and an array of impacts on the mind and body, including diminished IQ, ADHD & autism, childhood cancers and asthma. In particular, the report points to the following trends across studies:

  • The brains and nervous systems of boys are significantly more affected than girls.
  • Timing of exposure is critically important. If a child is exposed to even very small amounts of a harmful pesticide during a particular moment of development, the impacts can be severe and often irreversible.
  • link exposure to pesticides during pregnancy to increased risk of childhood leukemia and brain cancer. And children who live in intensively agricultural areas are more likely to have childhood cancer.

“Pesticides can have unique and profound impacts on the developing child, even in very small amounts. The research shows that prenatal exposure to pesticides, in combination with other environmental and genetic factors, can contribute to increased risk of adverse health consequences, such as effects on the developing brain,” said Dr. Tracey Woodruff, Director, Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment, University of California San Francisco. “We must take swift action to reduce exposure to harmful environmental chemicals to ensure healthier generations.”

PAN’s report outlines a series of urgent recommendations for state and federal policymakers to better protect children’s health and intelligence, recommendations emphasized by organizations on Tuesday.

“Enough scientific evidence is in, we can’t fail our children. While individual household choices can help, protecting kids from the health harms of pesticides requires real and swift policy change,” said Dr. Marquez, report co-author and staff scientist at PAN. “Dramatically reducing pesticide use, starting with those most hazardous to children, is the best way to protect current and future generations.”

The report points to the need for the following reforms to reduce pesticide use:

  • Create stronger policy tools so enforcement agencies can take swift action to pull existing pesticides off the market and block new pesticides when independent studies suggest they are harmful to children.
  • Increase investment and support for innovative farmers as they transition away from pesticide use.
  • Set and track national pesticide use reduction goals, focusing first on those pesticides that studies show are harmful to children.
  • Withdraw harmful pesticide products from use in homes, daycare centers and schools.
  • Establish pesticide-free zones around schools, daycare centers and neighborhoods in agricultural areas to protect children from harmful exposures, especially pesticide drift.

On the positive side, the report does highlight states and communities across the country where innovative policies have been put in place to protect children from pesticides where they live, learn and play. From pesticide-free playing fields in Connecticut to protective buffer zones for schools and neighborhoods in California’s central valley and organic school lunch programs in Minnesota, policies designed to keep children out of harm’s way are gaining momentum.

Source: Pesticide Action Network