(Beyond Pesticides, September 15, 2015) A study released this week in the journal Pediatrics finds that children’s exposure to pesticides in and around the home results in an increased risk of developing certain childhood cancers. Researchers made their findings through a meta-analysis, reviewing 16 epidemiological studies published since 1993 on the link between childhood cancer and pesticide exposure. Based on their findings, the authors of the study suggest “”¦public health policies should be developed to minimize childhood exposure to pesticides in the home,” and that “[e]very effort should be made to limit children’s exposure to pesticides.”
While most meta-analytical reviews previously conducted on the link between pesticides and childhood cancer looked at parental exposure or agricultural exposure, the current study from scientists at the Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health focuses in on residential exposure in and around a child’s home. Authors found that cancer risks were connected most closely to the type of pesticide used and the location where it was applied. For example, while residential herbicide use was associated with an increased risk of leukemia, the link between outdoor insecticide use and childhood cancers was not found to be statistically significant. However, exposure to insecticides inside the home was significantly associated with an increased risk of childhood leukemia and lymphoma.
Researchers note that while the results are cause for concern, more research is needed to further elucidate the connection between pesticide exposure and childhood cancer. “We don’t knjow ”˜how much’ exposure it takes, or if there’s a critical window of development,” said Chensheng (Alex) Lu, PhD, associate professor of environmental exposure biology at the Harvard School of Public Health to U.S. News and World Report. “Is the window during pregnancy? Or even before pregnancy? That will take a much deeper investigation,” Dr. Lu continued.
According to the National Cancer Institute, an estimated 15,780 children and adolescents aged 0 to 19 were diagnosed with some form of cancer in 2014. There is growing concern over the association between exposure to environmental chemicals such as pesticides and cancer risks both for children and the population at large. Although agriculture and occupational exposure to pesticides has traditionally been tied to cancer and other pesticide-related illnesses, 16 of the 30 most commonly used pesticides available for use in and around homes have been linked to cancer. Beyond Pesticides keeps track of the latest science linking pesticides to cancer and other health effects through the Pesticide Induced Diseases Database. The category on cancer currently contains hundreds of peer-reviewed studies associating pesticide exposure with a wide variety of cancers.
Children are at particular risk from exposure to pesticides because they take in more of a pesticide than adults relative to their body weight and have developing organ systems that are less able to detoxify chemicals. In 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a landmark policy statement on Pesticide Exposure in Children. The report discussed how children come into contact with pesticides every day in air, food, dust and soil, and frequently are exposed to pesticide residue on pets and after lawn, garden, or household pesticide applications. The report identified both acute and chronic effects of pesticides, noting that “Children encounter pesticide daily and have unique susceptibilities to their potential toxicity.”
The authors of both the current meta-analysis and the American Academy of Pediatrics report recommend that governments take steps to reduce and eliminate children’s exposure to pesticides. With a growing market and availability of non-toxic and organic alternatives, replacing bug and weed killers in and around one’s home is becoming easier and easier. Safer practices for common pests can be found on Beyond Pesticides’ ManageSafe toolkit, and alternatives to herbicides can be found through the Lawns and Landscapes webpage.
Beyond Pesticides encourages readers to follow the advice of scientists and researchers, and advocate for safer pest control practices in your community. Visit Beyond Pesticides’ Tools for Change or Children and Schools page for information on organizing on your community. You’ll also find fact sheets like Children and Pesticides Don’t Mix, to help make your case to local leaders and school officials. For additional assistance, call Beyond Pesticides at 202-543-5450 or email [email protected]
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.