Pesticide exposure in children

As the risks of climate change threaten agricultural stability, pesticides are being used at exponentially increasing rates. Although pesticides can have many benefits to society (for example by protecting people against illnesses such a malaria or dengue) their positive effects must be carefully balanced by effective regulation and enforcement.

Exposure to pesticides occurs through:

  • ingestion (eating contaminated food)
  • inhalation (breathing contaminated air)
  • dermal contact (absorption through the skin)

Children are uniquely vulnerable to uptake and adverse effects of pesticides due to:

  • a higher breathing rate in the first 12 years of life, therefore inhaling double the amount of aerial pesticides
  • frequent hand-to-mouth activity and being closer to the ground in general
  • immature detoxification pathways, making a chemical likely 10 times more toxic to a child than to an adult

Chronic exposure has been linked to childhood cancers (leukaemia, brain tumours); poor motor skills, delayed reflexes, poor memory and other neurodevelopmental issues; asthma, obesity and early puberty.
Acute pesticide poisening can result in death for young children. Symptoms include memory loss, uncontrolled urination, headaches, vomiting and blurred vision. 

Despite public outcry, aerial spraying of pesticides is allowed in many countries. This method of pesticide application is highly dangerous for communities, especially children and pregnant women.

Diagnosing low level chronic pesticide exposure can be difficult due to a lack of routine investigation and the delay in onset of symptoms.
It is therefore crucial to minimise and prevent exposure in the first place and applying the "precautionary principle".
This means that if an action or policy is suspected of causing harm, the responsible course is to avoid that risk until it has been disproved.