Monday, January 9, 2012


Pesticides are a series of chemicals that are used to prevent or destroy pests.   They include insecticide, herbicides, fungicides.   Although for the purpose of this post, we will be focusing on pesticides used in agriculture, it is important to mention that pesticides are often used at home (cockroach, rat, flea, tick sprays or poisons,  pet collars, products that kill mold or mildew) and even on our children (insect repellents) and on the areas where they most often play (some lawn and gardening  products such as weed killers).  

Organophosphorus pesticides, which account for up to 70% of the insecticides used in agriculture in the United States, are found in many conventionally grown foods. The bad news?  They are very toxic to humans, the good news? they are less persistent than other pesticides and can actually break down fairly quickly and can be reduced by simply stopping the source of exposure (ie: switching to organic produce).

Unfortunately, other pesticides linger in the environment and land where they are placed without breaking down  for extremely long periods of time and can thus contaminate crops (and affect us) for decades, even long after some have been banned in use for food.

There are new pesticides being developed by chemical companies each year, and unfortunately the US government mostly considers them ‘innocent until proven harmful... making US, the people ingesting the pesticides,  the guinea pigs.  The government does not require long term studies, however the EPA is finally stepping up and requiring all pesticides approved before 1984 to Re-register with them so that the agency can take a second look at potential health risks they might have.  The process is slow but hopefully will result in more consumer protection.

Pesticides can be absorbed by humans through: eating pesticide  treated foods, living near treated agriculture lands (dust, over spray), young children playing in pesticide treated lawns  and placing hands and toys in their mouths as well as drinking contaminated water (in the US the Us Department of Agriculture estimates that 50 million people’s drinking water is potentially contaminated  by pesticides


Pesticides were developed to protect crops from pests that can destroy them, however they are also toxic to species beyond those originally targeted..including us humans.

Eating one or two or three  or even 20 apples that have been treated with harmful pesticides will not give us cancer or cause us great harm ... However if you think of the cumulative effects of eating pesticides treated foods every single day of our lives, if you think of all the strawberries or apples (or apple juice or apple sauce) or peaches your son or daughter eats in the course of 5 years, it definitely adds up. 

When humans are exposed to pesticides, through ingesting pesticide treated foods,serious health effects could occur, that range from damage to the brain to cancer.  Other pesticides (such as those used in homes and lawns) have been linked to birth defects, endocrine disruptions and asthma.

A 1998 study of two groups of neighboring children in Mexico (one living in an agrarian region were pesticides are commonly used, and another living in the nearby foothills where pesticide use is avoided) found that pesticide exposed children demonstrated decreases in stamina, gross and fine eye-hand coordination, 30-minute memory, and the ability to draw a person.

There are numerous small case studies linking pesticides exposures (during childhood and pregnancy) to childhood cancers, but more studies need to be completed to definitely establish the specific links.  However, according to the National Cancer Institute, “many of the cancers associated  with pesticides among children,, such as leukemia, brain cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and Hodgkin’s disease, are the same cancer’s that are repeatedly associated with pesticide exposure among adults, suggesting that a role among children is highly plausible”.

As with all other toxic chemicals, the effects on the small developing bodies of our munchkins can be exponentially worse.

A 1989  analysis by the National Resources Defense Council on pesticide residues in foods commonly eaten by children , identified 66 potentially carcinogenic pesticides in foods that are commonly found in children’s diets.  In the study they explain that high exposure to pesticides in the first 6 years of life (which an average child can achieve by eating a diet rich in conventional fruits as is the norm) can cause more long term damage that exposure later in life   Also estimating that at least 17% of the preschool population, or three million children, receive exposure to neurotoxic organophosphate insecticides just from raw fruits and vegetables that are above levels the federal government considers safe, potentially leading to nausea, convulsions, coma and even death.

Other reasons why we, as parents, should be especially careful with the levels of pesticides ingested by our munchkins:

-The "maximum acceptable levels"of pesticides allowed by government agencies in foods are based on adult eating habits and adult weights. We all know that children's eating habits are different from those of adults (they tend to eat much more fruit and sometimes refuse to eat anything other than , say, apple sauce, for 2 days in a row) and thus could be eating proportionally more contaminated food on a volume-per-weight basis than adults.

- Some pesticides have been implicated as being neurotoxins.  Our children’s brains are still in full development, and thus, their brain could be more easily affected by pesticides

- The liver is in charge of breaking down toxins for elimination, however an infant's liver is less mature and may have less capacity to detoxify chemicals such as pesticides.

- Pesticides are stored in fat. Our cute chubby babies  tend to have proportionally more body fat than adults do.

In New Jersey this week, the "Child Safe Playing Field Act"is up for a State Senate vote.  This bill would prohibit the use of most lawn pesticides on public and private school playgrounds, recreational fields and day care centers making it the most far-reaching ill of its type in the nation. Both New York and Connecticut  have passed similar bills but limited to school playgrounds.

In late December the Department of PEsticide Regulation in California published their most recent numbers that showed an  increase in pesticide use in California in 2010 after declining for four consecutive years . Most of the growth was in agriculture, where applications increased by 12 million pounds, which translates to a total of 75 million acres  treated with pesticides in 2010.


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