5 Ways to Reduce Children's Pesticide Exposure

children pesticide exposureU.S. News & World Report recommends the following steps:

  1. Buy organic fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables most likely to be grown using pesticides, if they are not organic, include celery, peaches, strawberries, apples, and blueberries.
  2. Detoxify your lawn. If you have a lawn care service, make sure they are not using the organophosphate pesticide trichlorfon.
  3. Clean out your shed. The pesticide diazinon (sold under the brand names Diazinon or Spectracide) has been banned from residential, but there might be some left in your old garden shed.
  4. Use natural cures for a lice infection. Malathion is used for treatment of head lice. Don’t put a neurotoxin on your child's head.
  5. Check your school's pest control policy. If they have not already done so, encourage your school district to move to Integrated Pest Management, which uses less toxic alternatives.
Dr. Mercola's Comments:

Most of us take an immediate negative reaction to mean that something is dangerous. But few experience any immediate reactions when they’re exposed to a pesticide, which makes them all the more insidious.

The problem with pesticide exposure is that the majority of the negative reactions occur sometime in the future.

The scientific literature has already established convincing associations between pesticide exposure and neurological diseases like Parkinson’s and muscular sclerosis. Now, a new study in the journal Pediatrics has found disturbing links between some of the most commonly used pesticides and a significantly increased risk of ADHD symptoms in children.

Organophosphate pesticides are the most common, accounting for as much as 70 percent of the pesticides used in the U.S. Unfortunately, they may be particularly detrimental to human health.

Their mode of action is to interfere with the nervous systems of insects, but they have a similar effect in mammals as well, including humans. For this reason, although diet is believed to be the number one source of pesticide exposure, you cannot underestimate the potential detrimental impact of pre-birth exposure to these toxins.

Clearly, the nervous system of a growing fetus will be far more susceptible to damage than that of an adult or even a child being exposed through the food he ingests.

So if you are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, I strongly urge you to take special precautions to avoid as many toxic exposures as you possibly can, especially pesticide exposure from your own diet before and during pregnancy.

Common Pesticides Linked to ADHD

In this study, the urine of 1,139 children between the ages of 8 and 15 were tested for six pesticide metabolites. One hundred and nineteen of the children were diagnosed with ADHD.

Children with a ten-fold increase in metabolites from the pesticide malathion (found in head lice treatments) were 55 percent more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD, and those with higher than average levels of metabolites from dimethyl thiophosphate were 93 percent more likely to have ADHD compared to those with undetectable levels of this marker.

Be Especially Aware of “Healthy” Berries

Berries, a perennial “healthy” favorite among many children, could actually be some of the worst offenders when it comes to pesticide exposure through your diet.

Conventionally-grown blueberries and strawberries in particular, tend to be frequently contaminated. According to MSNBC, one government report found malathion residue in:

  • 28 percent of frozen blueberry samples
  • 25 percent of fresh strawberry samples

Likewise, a 2007 EU report on hazardous pesticides found that strawberries in particular contained “a poisonous blend” of no less than 14 different pesticides! Five of them known carcinogens, and three suspected endocrine disruptors.

So what can you do to protect your child from these toxic pesticides?

The US News & World Report above offers several helpful tips, and I recommend you implement them all. However, since your child’s diet is the number one source of pesticides, cleaning up in this area is clearly a must.

The most obvious course of action is to seek out organic foods whenever possible.

An added bonus of eating organic is that organic foods also typically contain far more nutrients than their conventionally-grown counterparts!

The biggest study ever into organic food – a four-year EU funded project called the Quality Low Input Food (QLIF) project – found that organic food is definitely about much more than a simple lifestyle choice. It’s about getting more nutrition and better health.

For example, this study found that:

  • Organic fruit and vegetables contain up to 40 percent more antioxidants
  • Organic produce had higher levels of beneficial minerals like iron and zinc
  • Milk from organic herds contained up to 90 percent more antioxidants

The researchers even went so far as to say that eating organic foods can help to increase the nutrient intake of people who don’t eat the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables a day.

Additionally, a 2003 study in the Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry found that organic foods are better for fighting cancer. And in 2005, scientists found that, compared to rats that ate conventional diets, organically fed rats experienced various health benefits, including:

  • Improved immune system status
  • Better sleeping habits
  • Less weight and were slimmer than rats fed other diets
  • Higher vitamin E content in their blood (for organically fed rats)

Does Everything Have to Be Organic?

Unfortunately, many people believe they can’t afford to buy organic. And although this is not necessarily true in many cases, there are ways you can get the most bang for your buck when buying organic.

Certain fruits and vegetables tend to be far more contaminated than others, simply because they’re more susceptible to various infestations and therefore sprayed more heavily. Some foods are also more “absorbent,” with thin, tender skins. Such foods would be high on your list for buying organic.

Fortunately, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has performed the arduous task of conducting nearly 43,000 pesticide tests to determine which fruits and vegetables pose the highest and lowest risk for pesticide exposure.

Their Shoppers' Guide to Pesticides in Produce is well worth printing out for future shopping trips.

Of the 43 different fruit and vegetable categories tested, which are all listed in their guide, the following 12 fruits and vegetables had the highest pesticide load, making them the most important to buy or grow organic:

Peaches Cherries
Apples Lettuce
Sweet bell peppers Grapes (imported)
Celery Pears
Nectarines Spinach
Strawberries Potatoes

Additional Recommendations

Remember that processed foods are in fact processed with a variety of chemicals, and should therefore be avoided as much as possible. Children already diagnosed with ADHD in most cases need to eliminate processed foods entirely.

I also recommend you use only natural cleaning products in your home, especially if you have young children, or are pregnant. Most health food stores now carry natural cleaning products, or you can search online for them. I will also be carrying my own line of highly effective, non-toxic cleaning products shortly.

Switching over to natural brands of toiletries is also a good idea. You’d be surprised to find just how many well-known brands of baby products are loaded with harmful chemicals. The SkinDeep website is an excellent source to determine which brands are the safest for your baby.

Also avoid using insect repellants that contain DEET. It can be tempting to douse your child in order to help her avoid getting bitten, but please be very mindful of what you’re putting on her skin. There are safe, effective and natural alternatives out there, like Neem-Based Botanical Outdoor Gel.

For even more information about common toxic exposures and how to protect your children from them, please review the three related articles listed below.