(Beyond Pesticides, March 18, 2008) To kick off National Poison Prevention Week on March 17, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is urging people to “lock up” their pesticides to protect children —stopping far short of advising the public on non-toxic methods of pest management. According to public health advocates, EPA, as a facilitator and apologist for the unnecessary use of highly toxic pesticides that it registers missed an important opportunity during National Poison Prevention Week to alert families with children about integrated management and organic methods that are effective but not reliant on hazardous methods. “With the wide availability of non-toxic methods and products, there is no reason for people to have poisonous pesticides in their homes and risk their children’s exposure,” said Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides.
Despite numerous scientific studies that show children carrying a body burden of pesticides used in homes and elevated rates of childhood cancer in households that use pesticides, given children special vulnerability to pesticides, EPA chose to focus on pesticide poisoning of children associated with accidental ingestion. The agency launched the week with the headline “Play It Safe, Prevent Poisonings, Lock Up Pesticides” and the quote, “The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) observes National Poison Prevention Week each year to increase awareness of the danger to children of unintentional poisonings from pesticides and household products, and to encourage parents and caregivers to lock up products that could potentially harm children.”According to EPA, every 13 seconds, a U.S. poison control center receives a call about an unintentional poisoning. The American Association of Poison Control Centers reports that more than 50 percent of the two million poisoning incidents each year involve children younger than six years old. In 2006, poison centers reported more than 77,000 calls made to poison centers with concerns about potential exposure to common household pesticides.
EPA lists the following products as hazardous, again focusing only on ingestion (“products that could seriously harm a child if ingested”), but nevertheless recognizing the fact that they are poisons:
- bath and kitchen disinfectants and sanitizers, including bleach
- household cleaning or maintenance products, such as drain cleaner, paints, or glues
- automotive products stored around the home, such as anti-freeze or windshield washer fluid
- health or beauty care products such as medicines, hair and nail products
- roach sprays and baits
- insect repellents
- rat and other rodent poisons
- weed killers
- products used to kill mold or mildew
- flea and tick shampoos, powders, and dips for pets
- swimming pool chemicals
In keeping with what advocates say is EPA’s failure to alert the public to the limitations of the pesticide regulatory process (such as no evaluation of endocrine disrupting effects, low level exposures, the effects of mixtures and synergistic effects between pesticides and with pharmaceuticals, etc.), the agency is also promoting its “Read the Label First!” campaign, which is said to be misleading in suggesting that compliance with the pesticide label instructions is fully protective of children, the public and the environment.
See Beyond Pesticides’ factsheets for managing pests without toxic pesticides and report Ending Toxic Dependency for more information.