So what are pesticides? Simply put, pesticides are chemicals used to kill unwanted plants, insects, rodents, or mold. Because they are used just about everywhere (e.g. homes, schools, parks, etc…) and can be found in our water and food supplies, the risk of exposure exists each and every day. Now some of these pesticides can have immediate and obviously unwanted side effects, but what I’d like to focus on is the long term (AKA chronic) issues associated with pesticides.
I often describe there being 2 primary influences when it comes to our overall health. The first influence is our genetics. It’s what is built into our DNA and for the sake of the discussion here, not much can be done to alter our DNA. But the second very important influence is our environment. This is where things become a bit muddy because what does that really mean? How does environment influence our health where genetics don’t seem to have a say? Well, just about everything that is not in our DNA is considered to be in our environment. For example, second-hand cigarette smoke and lead can be found in our children’s toys and even the pesticides we use on a daily basis.
And in light of a new AAP policy statement highlighting the health risks of pesticides to our children, I’d like to focus on some of these pesticides our children come across on a daily basis and what we might be able to do to avoid them.
First, what are some of the potential long term and unwanted effects of pesticide exposure? Leukemia, brain tumors, and other cancers/tumors. In young children, exposure can lead to developmental and cognitive delays. And for pregnant women, it can lead to birth defects and fetal death. Furthermore, endocrine issues (such as early puberty) can follow and newer studies are beginning to link pesticide exposure to asthma.
So what can we all do to minimize our children’s exposure to pesticides? Well, one simple measure is to consume more organic products and even removing the skin from fish and the fat from meats (where pesticides may concentrate.) In regard to pest management, in and outside the home, following Integrated Pest Management (IPM) techniques will help minimized pesticide exposure. IPM basically involves using different strategies (e.g. how to dispose of garbage in a timely fashion and storing food in insect-proof containers) along with the use of the least-toxic insecticides when necessary. And finally, make sure you monitor for newly posted signs at your child’s school or neighborhood park for recent pesticide use. If pesticide use is evident, please take the extra precautions to avoid the area.
Any other thoughts? Suggestions?
- Dr. Jeremy
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