Monthly Safety Blast – Pesticide Exposures Among Farm Children

For most farm families, pesticides and insecticides are used frequently as a part of their agricultural operation. However, children can be exposed to these harmful chemicals if they are not properly stored, handled or applied. Parents can also unintentionally serve as “vectors” for residues transferred via their skin, clothing, and footwear into family vehicles and residences.1

Pesticides can also be found in rural drinking water sources. According to the National Water Quality Assessment Program, wells that rely on shallow groundwater sources are at highest risk; approximately 61% of shallow groundwater samples from agricultural areas contain at least one detectable pesticide.2

Children are more vulnerable to uptake and adverse effects of pesticides than adults because of developmental, dietary, and physiologic factors.

While acute pesticide poisoning is relatively uncommon in US children, chronic low-level exposure is more common. 3

There are many routes of exposure for children who live on farms or who’s parents work on farms. These routes include:

  • the mouth- oral exposure or ingesting food, dirt, or plants with pesticide residue or ingesting the chemicals unintentionally
  • the lungs- breathing it in especially if children are outside while chemicals are applied or pesticide drift occurs (rainy or windy day)
  • the skin- through pesticide drift or playing in or around an area where pesticides were applied, or coming in contact with a parents that has pesticide residue on skin or clothes

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the chronic symptoms of pesticide exposures in children include:

  • ADHD
  • Autism
  • other cognitive effects
  • adverse birth outcomes (low birth weight and birth defects)
  • pediatric cancer 4

Parents can be their child’s first line of defense against pesticide exposure.

How can parents reduce their child’s exposure to harmful chemicals?

  • storing pesticides in a locked storage building or out of reach.
  • keeping pesticides in their original containers and never transferring to a soda or water bottle
  • practicing safe pesticide application hygiene by washing hands and uncovered skin with soap and water and changing clothes before using the family vehicle or entering the home
  • keeping children out of the area where pesticides are being applied or have been applied
  • avoiding pesticide application on windy or rainy days
  • wearing PPE during pesticide application to reduce residue transfer to clothing or skin

What can health practitioners do?

According to Dr. Catherin Karr, environmental epidemiologist and pediatric environmental medicine specialist at the University of Washington,”pediatricians don’t get this information or training in their routine medical education and are likely not aware of the wealth of studies that have been published up to now on the subject.” She believes doctors can play a significant role in protecting children’s health by recognizing, treating, and preventing exposure to pesticides. 1