Thursday, October 13th marked Children’s Environmental Health Day – an annual event organized by our partners at the Children’s Environmental Health Network. This day of recognition and celebration aims to increase the visibility of environmental health issues that impact kids while inspiring action nationwide.
While we’ve been reflecting on PAN’s own children’s health campaigns, projects, and initiatives this week, the work to protect children is, of course, happening year-round. We thought it would be a good time for a recap on why protecting children from pesticides is so important, and how we need to go about it.
Children at risk
PAN pursues our work through partnerships with those most impacted by pesticide exposure, or those most deeply and negatively affected by industrial agriculture. We call these groups our core constituencies and we often refer to them as being on the frontlines for the health risks brought about by pesticide use and abuse. Children have long been one of PAN’s core constituencies and we remain committed to their protection.
Science shows that children exposed to pesticides either in utero or during other critical periods of development may have lower IQs, birth defects and developmental delays. These children face higher risks of autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, and cancer.
Kids are more vulnerable to health-harming chemicals than adults are, in part due to how they interact with their environments. For example, young children learn extensively through touch, and hand to mouth behavior. They also have speedier metabolic rates, so they take in more water, food, and air, which can expose them to higher amounts of toxic substances, and their bodies are less able to detoxify and expel harmful chemicals.
In short, children are absorbing a higher load of pesticides at a time when their bodies are still developing. Rural children are especially at risk, as they likely face pesticides drifting from nearby agricultural fields into their homes or onto school grounds — or contaminating their drinking water.
Decades of advocacy
A food and farming system free of the harms of industrial agriculture will benefit everyone, but taking swift action to protect children from pesticide exposure is of the utmost importance. Our work aims to spark the conversation about kids and pesticides, and put protective policies in place across the country and around the world.
Our cornerstone kids health reports are rigorous assessments of dozens of independent studies. Generation in Jeopardy is a deep-dive on the impacts of pesticides on children’s health and Kids on the Frontline provides a follow up that focuses specifically on rural children, They remain valuable resources that support our own, our partners’, and communities’ efforts to protect children’s health.
Our grassroots scientists continue to decode the latest scientific studies and findings around health and pesticides. Their analysis covers topics like this recent study focusing on environmental justice, the dietary risk of pesticides in your food, and pesticides on playgrounds.
We’re also focused on storytelling; we know that on-the-ground experiences highlight exactly why action is needed. Folks have similar stories to share from across the country, and our partner Bonnie Wirtz recently expanded on her own harrowing drift experience involving her infant son.
And of course, for years we’ve been organizing with partners at the federal level for strong, sweeping pesticide policies. In 2021, we saw major progress when EPA announced its withdrawal of all food uses of chlorpyrifos, a neurotoxic chemical extremely harmful to children, though there’s still work to be done on that front. We’re also energized for continued advocacy around the Protect America’s Children from Toxic Pesticides Act (PACTPA), which would overhaul U.S. pesticide regulations, ultimately mandating new rules to protect people and the environment.
Youth leading the way
A lot of the work we do at PAN is focused on young children, but the way we work with children differs from our other core constituencies. A child’s most important job is to learn and grow, so our partners are the folks who care for them – parents, teachers, physicians, and advocacy groups.
However, as the years go by, children grow into smart, strong, and inspiring teenagers and young adults. We’ve been blown away in recent years seeing emerging youth movements around environmental health and justice, and have had the pleasure of collaborating with groups like the National Young Farmers Coalition and the Sunrise Movement on equitable farming policy and climate justice initiatives.
And of course on pesticides specifically, our partners at Re:wild Your Campus (formerly Herbicide Free Campus) have sparked a movement across the country of students organizing to eliminate herbicides and “rewild” their school campuses.
As with each Children's Environmental Health Day, it has been amazing to see all of the great work across so many sectors to keep kids safe from environmental harms. And it has been even more heartening to see those children grow up and take this work even further to protect themselves and the generations that follow them.