Poisoning our Children

“Within five minutes, I had noted multiple cleft palates and several children with apparent Down Syndrome…. It was shocking and disturbing to walk into a room with a group of parents and children that easily represented three to four times the national average for birth defects,” notes Ana Duncan Pardo, from Toxic Free North Carolina, about her experience during a presentation for farmworker parents.

While everyone, from consumers to farmworkers, is at risk for pesticide exposure, farmworker families face the gravest dangers. Most of us are exposed to pesticides as we eat produce and through pesticide use in public spaces, such as parks, and in residences. Farmworkers experience all of those exposure pathways, in addition to being exposed to agricultural pesticides while they work in the fields.  They also frequently experience exposure in their homes due to pesticide drift from nearby agricultural fields.

The Pesticide Action Network (PAN) recently published an in-depth report about the consequences pesticides have on children. The report, titled “A Generation in Jeopardy,” declares children are sicker today than a generation ago and that pesticides are most likely to blame. The report examines dozens of scientific studies from the last five years, linking pesticides to cancers, learning disabilities, and reproductive problems. Through its analysis of scientific evidence, the report reveals how common acute pesticide injuries are among farmworkers and finds that pesticide drift  from fields into nearby farmworker homes and neighborhoods is a huge problem.

Some of the most current and important findings in the report found that boys’ brains are more sensitive to the effects of pesticides when compared to the brains of girls. The report further explains that the timing of exposure during a child’s development is crucial. Exposure to even very small amounts of damaging pesticides during a particular period of development can have irreversible consequences. This is why PAN, in its recommendations, emphasizes the importance of avoiding pesticides around facilities where children in particular are present, such as daycares and schools.

The report also highlights that children who live in largely agricultural areas are more likely to have childhood cancer. Unfortunately, farmworker children who face the gravest dangers of exposure also have the smallest security network. Many farmworker children don’t have health insurance, most live in extreme poverty, and as many as 500,000 children work alongside their parents in fields doused with pesticides. PAN’s recommendations to save our nation’s children, who are being poisoned on a daily basis, include reducing pesticide use on a national level, especially near homes, schools, and daycare centers. Citing poll after poll that show 80 percent of Americans consider children’s health a priority, PAN asks why our nation does not put in place policies and practices to address this priority.

AFOP’s Health & Safety Programs published a similar report last year on the effect of pesticides on children in its annual publication The Fields. The report, titled “Farmworker Children and Pesticides,” notes the importance of creating increased awareness among the general public, policymakers, and other stakeholders concerning the pandemic of childhood diseases associated with pesticide use.

It’s time to act for our nation’s children. Read AFOP’s “Farmworker Children and Pesticides” and PAN’s “A Generation in Jeopardy” to get informed. You can also share this information with your friends and family and reduce pesticide use in your homes. Most importantly, don’t forget about the farmworker families who are exposed to agricultural pesticides on a daily basis.  Help share their stories and continue to spread awareness.

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