Pesticides lurk in daycare centers


Environmental Science & Technology
Science News
September 6, 2006

The first national study to examine pesticide exposure in daycare centers finds some mixed results.

Millions of children get exposed to pesticides while attending daycare, concludes the first nationwide study of insecticide residues in U.S. daycare centers. The study, published today on ES&T‚ Research ASAP website (DOI: 10.1021/es061021h), found low levels of organophosphate and pyrethroid pesticides. Although the health impacts are unclear, the results raise questions about the risks children face from these chemicals.

“We found at least one pesticide in every daycare center,” says lead author Nicolle Tulve, a research scientist with the U.S. EPA‚ National Exposure Research Laboratory. Tulve says that the concentrations were quite low. She did not comment on whether these concentrations might be harmful but notes that no health advisories or national standards currently exist for such exposures.

For the study, researchers selected 168 daycare centers across the U.S. At each site, a technician wiped samples from indoor surfaces, such as floors and tables, and collected soil from outdoor play areas. The manager of each facility was also questioned about cleaning and pest-management practices. Researchers tested for 39 pesticides, and 63% of the centers reported applying up to 10 different insectides. Organophosphate and pyrethroid pesticides cropped up most often, and three of the four centers with the most pesticides detected were in the South, where warm weather brings out the bugs.

This study provides a teaching opportunity in terms of training childcare workers to manage pests in the safest way possible, says Lynn Goldman, who is a professor of applied health at Johns Hopkins University and a former EPA official in charge of the agency‚ pesticide program. “These chemicals should be avoided around children, and if needed, bait traps, which do not leave residues on the floors and surfaces, are preferable, as long as they are kept out of the reach of children,” she says.

Goldman says that she was disappointed that the agency did not use the results to characterize how much exposure to pesticides children face. “These data are interesting but [could] be far more meaningful,” she says.

Paul Lioy, the deputy director of the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute at Rutgers University, agrees. He says that aggregating the total exposures could help to identify individuals with sensitivity to these chemicals.

In the past decade, more and more states have started regulating pesticides in daycare facilities. In 2000, Massachusetts passed a law requiring all schools to submit integrated pest-management plans to limit children‚  contact with pesticides. And New York legislators recently introduced a bill to prohibit pesticide applications in daycare centers during business hours. Meanwhile, California is considering a bill to require daycare owners to notify parents when they are treating for pests.

However, Lioy also notes that pesticides are not all bad. “These chemicals kill roaches, which can cause allergies in some children. Prudence,” he says, “dictates wise use of insecticides and complete pest-management plans.” PAUL D. THACKER

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