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Pesticide: Risk to Children

Infants and children may be especially sensitive to health risks posed by pesticides for several reasons:

  • Their internal organs are still developing and maturing.
  • In relation to their body weight, infants and children eat and drink more than adults, possibly increasing their exposure to pesticides in food and water.
  • Certain behaviors — such as playing on floors or lawns or putting objects in their mouths — increase a child’s exposure to pesticides used in homes and yards.

Pesticides may harm a developing child by blocking the absorption of important food nutrients necessary for normal healthy growth. Another way pesticides may cause harm is if a child’s excretory system is not fully developed, the body may not fully remove pesticides. Also, there are “critical periods” in human development when exposure to a toxin can permanently alter the way an individual’s biological system operates.

For these reasons, and as specifically required under the Food Quality Protection Act (1996), the EPA carefully evaluates children’s exposure to pesticide residues in and on foods they most commonly eat (i.e., apples and apple juice, orange juice, potatoes, tomatoes, soybean oil, sugar, eggs, pork, chicken, and beef). The EPA is also evaluating new and existing pesticides to ensure that they can be used with a reasonable certainty of no harm to adults as well as infants and children. According to data collected from the American Association of Poison Control Centers, in 1995 alone, an estimated 79,000 children were involved in common household pesticide-related poisonings or exposures in the United States. An additional 19,837 children were exposed to or poisoned by household chlorine bleach.

A survey by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regarding pesticides used in and around the home revealed some significant findings:

  • Almost half (47%) of all households with children under the age of five had at least one pesticide stored in an unlocked cabinet, less than 4 feet off the ground (i.e., within the reach of children).
  • Approximately 75% of households without children under the age of five also stored pesticides in an unlocked cabinet, less than 4 feet off the ground (i.e., within the reach of children). This number is especially significant because 13% of all pesticide poisoning incidents occur in homes other than the child’s home.
  • Bathrooms and kitchens were cited as the areas in the home most likely to have improperly stored pesticides. Examples of some common household pesticides found in bathrooms and kitchens include roach sprays; chlorine bleach; kitchen and bath disinfectants; rat poison; insect and wasp sprays, repellents and baits; and, flea and tick shampoos and dips for pets. Other household pesticides include swimming pool chemicals and weed killers.

The EPA regulates pesticides in the United States under the pesticide law (the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act). Since 1981, the law has required most residential-use pesticides with a signal word of “danger” or “warning” to be in child-resistant packaging. These are the pesticides that are most toxic to children. Child-resistant packaging is designed to prevent most children under the age of five from gaining access to the pesticide, or at least delay their access. However, individuals must also take precautions to protect children from accidental pesticide poisonings or exposures.

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