PANNA: U.S. Farm Children Face Risk of Serious Harm from Pesticides


Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)

U.S. Farm Children Face Risk of Serious Harm from Pesticides

October 23, 1998

Children living on or near farms in the U.S. 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 over 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 also accompanied by an administrative petition to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) signed by over 50 labor, health and environmental organizations, asking that farm children's special exposures (including contaminated soil, pesticide drift, and playing near fields) be taken into account when determining so-called "safe" tolerances of agricultural chemicals. A similar petition was also delivered to the California Environmental Protection Agency.

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 leukemia, kidney tumors, brain tumors and learning and memory problems. Children face particular risks from pesticides both because they are more exposed than adults due to their smaller size and hand-to-mouth habits, and because their developing bodies and brains are more susceptible to toxins than adults.

The report's findings include:

-- Children living in farming areas or whose parents work in agriculture are exposed to pesticides to a greater degree and from more sources than other children.

-- 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 U.S. 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 ten 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. The law also requires an additional ten-fold margin of safety to protect children if there is uncertainty about their exposures or susceptibility.

"Unfortunately, EPA's record in enforcing the child protection requirements of the law has been poor," says NRDC's Gina Solomon, M.D., M.P.H., the report's principal author."A chemical industry study recently revealed that over a seven month period EPA used the child safety factor for only four out of 50 tolerances issued. That's fewer than 10%. The agency has also not previously focused on farm children's particular exposure to pesticides."

Based on its report, the NRDC recommends: -- Designating farm children as a "sentinel group" needing protection under the Food Quality Protection Act ; -- Creating federal and state pesticide use reporting programs, similar to the one in California;

-- Additional research on pesticide exposure routes and their effects on children;

-- Less pesticide-intensive agricultural practices, along with elimination of those pesticides that pose the greatest risk to pregnant women and to children.

The report is available on the NRDC website at www.nrdc.org. Copies of the report are also available for US$10.59 plus US$3 shipping prepaid from NRDC Publications, 40 West 20th Street, New York, NY 10011. California residents must add 7.25% sales tax.

Source/contact: Natural Resources Defense Council, 71 Stevenson Street, San Francisco, CA 94105; phone (415) 777-0220; fax (415) 495-5996.

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