October 23, 1998
U.S. Farm Children Face Risk of Serious Harm from Pesticides
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"
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
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)
Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA)
49 Powell St., Suite 500, San Francisco, California 94102
Phone (415) 981-1771
Fax (415) 981-1991
web site www.panna.org/panna/
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