Most cosmetic pesticides, if taken in significant amounts, can produce toxic effects. Very small amounts can affect young children. Toxic effects include irritation of skin and mucous membranes, stomach upset, fainting, dizziness, and headaches. The liver, kidneys and nervous system may also be damaged. Many families use chemicals on their lawn and keep them in their garage and homes. In spite of this, there are very few overdoses in Canadian children.
Pediatricans (children’s doctors) have been concerned for some time about the effects of neurotoxins, chemicals toxic to the nervous system. Very small, repeated doses may affect our children’s future health. Kids are exposed to these chemicals when playing in the grass, and by touching and licking their fingers. While rolling and playing outside, they can also breathe in the residues of pesticides sprayed in the parks. The younger the child, the more likely it is that health effects will occur.
We know that other chemicals such as lead are toxic to the nervous system in high doses. Children chronically exposed to much lower doses have shown neurodevelopmental damage, including learning difficulties, reduced IQ, attention deficit and behaviour problems. Concern is growing about exposing our children to any neurotoxic chemicals. It is difficult for scientists to measure the effects of chronic low dose exposures since effects appear years later. Such studies are also costly and time-consuming.
However, the cancer-causing effects of many of these chemicals have been studied. Cancer in children, particularly leukemia and brain tumours, has been linked with exposure that may have occurred to the parents even before pregnancy. Several recent studies have linked pesticides with the onset of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the blood and lymph organs. Others have associated toxicity to the reproductive system with women losing their babies.
Public places and wastelands are often sprayed. However, a higher percentage of pesticides are used by private home owners. These pesticides are sprayed on lawns, then washed away by rain. Eventually, they reach the water supply where they are recycled into our food, ground water and air. Pesticide residues have been found in baby food and in other foods.
Children are at more risk for exposure since they lack judgement, touch the grass, put their hands and objects in their mouths, and are lower to the ground. Their growing and developing body systems are particularly at risk of damage to various organ systems. It is believed that certain exposures in childhood may be related to cancers that develop decades later. The risk also depends on other exposures and individual genes making some more inclined to these cancers.
Children may get skin rashes or worsening asthma attacks after playing on recently sprayed grass. Discourage kids from playing on sprayed grass for two to three days or until after the next rainfall. Avoid eating in the park, and wash hands well once home.
Unborn babies can also be affected, especially early in pregnancy. Pregnant women or soon-to-be pregnant couples should avoid any possible exposure to pesticides.
In general, we need to think about whether spraying against dandelions, clover and other weeds is really necessary. Another non-toxic method of weed control might be a more reasonable approach. Cosmetic pesticides have become very common in gardening and lawn care. However, the possible long-term effects from chronic exposure to low doses suggest we should avoid the use of cosmetic pesticides in our yards.