Watertrough Childrens Alliance-
help us protect our children

Restoring our Relationship with Agriculture

Author: By Ronni Sands
Issue: Issue 41, Vol. 10, Autumn 2005 : RESTORING OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH FOOD


Ronni Sands is the Garden Teacher at Summerfiled Waldorf School. We can all learn from teacher Ronni Sands as she prepares her Santa Rosa, California high school students for a sustainable future.

The present environmental situation calls us to be conscious participants in healing rather than depleting the earth’s resources. Our ninth grade main lesson is an opportunity to teach the broad concepts behind the present need to grow food in a healthy, sustainable way. If we are ignorant of the relationships that exist in a healthy ecosystem, how will we recognize the sources of its destruction or know what needs changing in order for it to thrive once again?

We need to become ecologically literate, to understand the principles of ecology and the language of nature. Ecosystems are sustainable communities of plants, animals and microorganisms. Sustainability is the giving back after taking so that a system can thrive. Do we live in a sustainable ecosystem? What is a watershed? What watershed did I grow up in and how does it influence me? These are all important questions, a place to begin in our goal of eco-literacy. The watershed, which is a large basin or reservoir that fills with water and becomes a source for small creeks and streams, has an influence on all the organisms in our environment. This water source affects weather, drinking water, wildlife, and even our personal relationship to nature. When we include the watershed, our environment is much bigger than our house, and our ecosystem much bigger than our family. Looking at those influences we can start to see the inter-connectedness and how one action affects a part of the whole.

As we move from the concept of ecosystem to the practice of farming we are working with the question, “how can we work with the earth in a sustainable way, while taking resources from the soil to grow our food?” Our class takes a hard look at the industrial model of agriculture, which has had a tremendous impact on the earth, both environmentally and socially. Industrial agriculture has hidden itself in many myths and these must be unraveled so that one can see its environmental impact and make clear choices as a consumer as well as a farmer.

Our textbook is Fatal Harvest, The Tragedy of Industrial Agriculture. This is a compilation of essays covering the different influences that the industrial model has had on farming and how this affects us. In the beginning of the book, there are seven myths regarding industrial agriculture. The students each take one myth and through research and further reading make a presentation back to the class. These myths say industrial agriculture “will save the world,” “is cheaper,” “is healthier,” and so on. By sharing their findings with one another through oral presentations, class members become informed of all seven myths.

The next section of the book looks at these questions: What are artificial fertilizers and what are some of the hidden affects of pesticides? What is genetic engineering; food irradiation? Can agriculture and biodiversity coexist? What is the present condition of our topsoil, our water, our wildlife habitats? Have we forgotten our pollinators?

This is now the place to introduce the concepts of sustainable farming practices. Compost is essential to the building of topsoil. When one replaces organic matter after a growing season, the soil is able to sustain another crop. We now go from the conceptual to the practical by building a compost pile. Students use scythes to cut high grass which is a good nitrogen layer for the pile. Old wet straw is a good carbon layer. Chopped kale plants and thistles from the field add more nitrogen. The chicken and rabbit manure add nitrogen as well. Straw from their houses add carbon. We shape and form the pile, like a pan of lasagna. When we are finished, I introduce the concepts of biodynamics. We discuss all the different preparations, from horn manure to silica, to the compost preps. Two students stir the valerian, while others make the necessary holes in the pile. Each student takes a turn putting a teaspoon of stinging nettle, oak bark, chamomile, dandelion, or yarrow properly into the holes in the pile. Valerian is sprayed on as a protective sheath. Compost is our first and most important sustainable farming practice. Other farming practices included the making of the soil mix for starting seeds in the greenhouse. Compost, peat, perlite, lava rock and other soil amendments all get sifted through a sifting screen. The result is a fertile medium with drainage and nutrients. We learn propagation methods which include: division of roots of already established plants, cuttings from hardy and semi-hardy wood perennials, and layering at the node. Greenhouse work is essential to supply ongoing crop rotation. Some seeds are sown directly in the ground.

Farming is a life skill that all can learn and apply. When you work with the cycles of nature, you respect its fragility and understand the need for sustainability.

Are small farms a better model for growing food safely and efficiently? What are alternatives to pesticides? Our students are eager to know the complexities of farming so that they can be participants in the solutions. At Summerfield Waldorf School we are fortunate to have a biodynamic farm where we are practicing these solutions. The high school students, guided by a teacher, become full participants in the real work of the farm. They are also guided by their new understanding of the great need for a form of agriculture that is healing to both the human and the earth.

More and more students are interested in agriculture as a career. Many students have learned to make and use the biodynamic preparations. One student did her senior thesis on “Biodynamics.” We send our students to other biodynamic farms in the area so that they get a broad picture of the economic and social aspects of farming. These experiences all awaken the intuitive sense that we are all responsible keepers of the land.

We live in a time where the well-being of the earth and all of humanity are at risk. Every choice we make, from the food we eat, to the lifestyle we live, and the resources that we take, all affect the ecosystem. Once informed, students can make responsible choices. Although the industrial model may seem quite dark, the biodynamic and organic practices bring hope for the future. The students are our hope for the future.

Ronni Sands is the Garden Teacher at Summerfiled Waldorf School. 


Pesticides may be making kids sick at school
Regulations are ‘inadequate’ and don't protect children, advocates say

Click here to go to the original article: _

STRATHMORE, Calif. — On Grandparents Day, Domitila Lemus accompanied her 8-year-old granddaughter to school. As the girls lined up behind Sunnyside Union Elementary, a foul mist drifted onto the playground from the adjacent orange groves, witnesses say.

Lemus started coughing, and two children collapsed in spasms, vomiting on the blacktop.

She and the little girls have since recovered without apparent lasting effects.

But an Associated Press investigation has found that over the past decade, hundreds, possibly thousands, of schoolchildren in California and other agricultural states have been exposed to farm chemicals linked to sickness, brain damage and birth defects. The family of at least one California teenager suspects pesticides caused her death.

There are no federal laws specifically against spraying near schools, and activists say California and the seven other states that have laws or policies creating buffer zones around schools to protect them from pesticides don’t do enough to enforce them.

“The regulations are inadequate. In the vast majority of cases, people who didn’t follow the laws received at best a $400 fine,” said Margaret Reeves, a scientist with the Pesticide Action Network, a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco.

The pesticide industry says it is committed to safety, and regulators say they are doing their best to enforce the laws.

“Everyone wants to protect children,” said California Department of Pesticide Regulation spokesman Glenn Brank. He said his agency is doing what it can to enforce the law with a shortage of agricultural inspectors.

In the Strathmore incident last November, grandparents said the spraying was being done less than 150 feet from the children. Tulare County authorities fined an unlicensed pest removal company $1,100 for spraying a restricted weed killer that morning. But no action was taken over what witnesses said happened to the children.

Because no one reported the incident as a case of pesticide drift, county agricultural inspectors never swabbed the jungle gym or took grass samples, making it impossible to establish whether pesticide had, in fact, drifted onto the playground.

The Environmental Protection Agency does not keep comprehensive national figures on students and teachers sickened by drifting pesticides

In California, the No. 1 farm states and the one with the best records, there were 590 pesticide-related illnesses at schools from 1996 to 2005, according to figures given to the AP by the state. More than a third of those were due to pesticide drift, the figures show. Activists say that those numbers are low and that many cases are never even reported.

In California’s long, flat interior, spraying season lasts seven months, from March through September. When citrus trees blossom and grapevines climb trellises, Lemus prays to the Virgin Mary that her granddaughter won’t come home with her eyes watering and head pounding, unable to breathe.

Tulare County, where she lives, is one of the nation’s most fertile farm regions, with more than half the schools within a quarter-mile of agricultural fields, according to the nonprofit Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment.

As suburbs push close to farmland, the rate of pesticide poisoning among children nationwide has risen in recent years, according to a 2005 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The study found that 40 percent of all children sickened by pesticides at school were victims of drift — pesticide carried on the breeze.

Research on pregnant women exposed to common pesticides has suggested higher rates of premature birth, and poor neurological development and smaller head circumferences among their babies.

The effects on children of small, repeated exposures over a long period of time are unclear, said University of California, Berkeley epidemiologist Brenda Eskenazi.

But acute pesticide poisoning can cause nausea, blurred vision, an abnormally fast heart rate, paralysis and death.

Chrissy Garavito, a 15-year-old high school sophomore, died in Fontana in 1997 of a heart rhythm disturbance her mother believes was triggered by exposure to chemicals sprayed at the school. Authorities never confirmed that pesticides contributed to her death.

Advertise | AdChoices

‘She was in a stupor’ 
In 2001, pesticide poisoning nearly killed Elena Dominguez, then a sixth-grader in Wenatchee, Wash.

One day, after playing Frisbee during gym class across the street from an apple orchard, she passed out at her desk.

“She was in a stupor,” said her mother, Cindy Dominguez. “She couldn’t talk, her eyes were rolling back in her head.”

Emergency-room doctors dismissed Elena’s abnormally fast heart rate as a symptom of dehydration, gave her intravenous fluids and sent her home. Three weeks later, it happened again.

“I was at a track meet and all of a sudden I felt really, really tired,” said Elena, now 18. “I made it to the finish line and just fell over.”

Investigators found her clothes were soaked in the pesticide Endosulfan I; it had been picked up from residue on the grass and absorbed into her bloodstream through her skin. Officials later found five other pesticides on school grounds and fined the apple grower for forging his applicator’s license.

The Dominguez family sued the orchard owner and the Wenatchee school district, which established rules requiring students to stay inside after a spraying, among other things. State officials believe it is the only district in Washington with such limitations.

But keeping students inside may not be enough. Two years ago, 600 students and staff members were evacuated from an Edinburg, Texas, elementary school after pesticides drifted from a cotton field into the school’s air conditioning system. Thirty-nine people developed nausea and headaches.

EPA officials say they have no real idea how often pesticides waft onto school grounds. The EPA must register pesticides before they are sold, but federal law does not restrict where they can be sprayed.

“We implement the laws that Congress gives us,” said Ruth Allen, an EPA epidemiologist.

Once the EPA approves a product, federal law requires manufacturers to report any “unreasonable adverse effects on the environment of the pesticide” that their products cause. Activists say industry is essentially allowed to police itself.

CropLife America, a national organization representing suppliers of farm pesticides, said their use near schools is well-regulated.

Advertise | AdChoices

“We’re really committed to public safety,” said spokeswoman Donna Uchida. “Any kind of use of a pesticide has a labeling requirement that is imposed to protect human health and the environment.”

California has some of the strictest pesticide laws in the nation. Under state law, growers and pest control companies can be fined if pesticide drifts from a field and sickens people.

A 2002 state law allows county authorities to establish a no-spray buffer zone of a quarter-mile around schools. But Tulare County has not done so. State officials said they did not know how many counties have set up such buffer zones.

Lemus and environmentalists are pushing for pesticide-free zones throughout California.

“Why don’t they tell us they’ll spray beforehand so we can bring our children inside?” Lemus said.

Playgrounds, daycare centers and schools: every parent hopes these are safe places, where children can flourish and grow. Unfortunately, pesticides used in and near schools and playgrounds can make children an unintended ‘frontline community,’ exposing them to dangerous chemicals just when their developing brains and bodies are especially vulnerable.

Parents, communities and organizations around the country are finding ways to make schools safer for growing children. Progress includes pesticide use reduction in school buildings, buffer zones to protect children from spraying in nearby fields, and support for safer pest control methods in and near schools and playgrounds.

Contaminated Classrooms & SchoolyardsFrom the moment the morning school bell rings, children face a number of exposure risks. Pesticides can settle on desks, books, counters and walls. Children – and teachers – breathe contaminated air or touch contaminated surfaces, unknowingly exposing themselves to chemical residues that can remain in the school environment for days.

In rural areas, pesticides often drift into schoolyards from nearby fieldsOf the 40 pesticides most commonly used in schools, 28 are probable or possible carcinogens, 26 have been shown to cause reproductive effects, 26 damage the nervous system, and 13 can cause birth defects. 

In rural areas, pesticides often drift into schoolyards during and after applications on nearby fields. PAN’s Drift Catcher has been used in communities across the country to document pesticides in or near school grounds. 

  • Schoolchildren in Strathmore, CA were exposed to pesticides sprayed in a neighboring field, feeling dizzy and falling sick in November, 2007.
  • Seven children were hospitalized and a total of 11 people sickened in Kahuku, Hawaii in 2007, when fumes from an organophosphate insecticide drifted over the school from a nearby sod farm.
  • In Florida, high school students used a PAN Drift Catcher to measure the pesticide endosulfan drifting into the school from nearby cabbage fields.
Pesticides, Playgrounds & Fields
Young children explore the world in very hands-on ways. Pesticides used to coat the wood of playground structures, keep landscaping tidy or fields weed-free can end up on small fingers - which often end up in small mouths. A young child's common hand-to-mouth behavior is well known to increase risk of pesticide exposure.

Communities across the country are confronting this risk to young children head-on, demanding safer play environments. In the Pacific Northwest, 17 cities have mandated pesticide free parks and playgrounds.

Pesticide use on playing fields has raised concerns among families and environmental health advocates nationwide. The National Coalition for Pesticide-Free Lawns notes that “the common, everyday practices used to maintain our children's playing fields are unintentionally and unnecessarily exposing them to carcinogens, asthmagens, and developmental toxins,” and calls for a shift to organic turf management on playing fields across the country.

Communities are demanding safer play environments for children

Calls for Synthetic turf, touted by advocates as a “solution” to pesticides on playing fields, has actually raised otherserious health concerns. The U.S. currently has about 3,500 synthetic playing fields made of various materials, including nylon and polyethylene, and about 800 are installed each year at schools, colleges, parks and stadiums, according to the industry's Synthetic Turf Council.

Pigment containing lead chromate is used in some surfaces to make the turf green and hold its color in sunlight, potentially exposing children and others using this turf to lead. Studies have also raised deep concerns about exposure to lead and other toxins from the crumb rubber infill used in many synthetic turf fields.

Creating Safer Spaces for ChildrenThirty-six states now have school pesticide regulations, and pioneering districts across the country are developing least-toxic pest management approaches. A few examples:

  • In May 2010, New York Governor David Paterson signed the Child Safe Playing Fields Act into law, banning the cosmetic use of pesticides on playgrounds & sports fields at schools & daycare centers. The law also applies these protections to high schools.
  • In California, the Healthy Schools Act mandates parent notification when pesticides are to be applied, and recommends least-toxic Integrated Pest Management for schools and daycares. Many local school districts have adopted health-protective policies, and several counties have enacted buffer zones, limiting aerial spraying of pesticides around schools, daycares and other sensitive sites. A new study examines the effectiveness of the Act in daycares.
  • Dozens of municipalities in Canada, as well as the provinces of Quebec and Nova Scotia, have passed laws restricting “cosmetic” pesticide use for lawns & playgrounds. Ontario province recentlybanned use of 2,4-D in lawns & landscapes.
In 2009 EPA released a plan encouraging all public schools to adopt Integrated Pest Management by 2015Experts calculate the approach could reduce school use of pesticides by at least 70%. Unfortunately, EPA's plan is a set of guidelines rather than a directive, and no funding to help schools switch from conventional pest management. The Schools Environmental Protection Act, introduced in 2009, would address these issues.

PAN works with partners to support stronger measures across the country to create safer spaces for children as they grow.


Study: ADHD linked to pesticide exposure

(Health.com) -- Children exposed to higher levels of a type of pesticide found in trace amounts on commercially grown fruit and vegetables are more likely to have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder than children with less exposure, a nationwide study suggests.

Researchers measured the levels of pesticide byproducts in the urine of 1,139 children from across the United States. Children with above-average levels of one common byproduct had roughly twice the odds of getting a diagnosis of ADHD, according to the study, which appears in the journal Pediatrics.

Exposure to the pesticides, known as organophosphates, has been linked to behavioral and cognitive problems in children in the past, but previous studies have focused on communities of farm workers and other high-risk populations. This study is the first to examine the effects of exposure in the population at large.

Organophosphates are "designed" to have toxic effects on the nervous system, says the lead author of the study, Maryse Bouchard, Ph.D., a researcher in the department of environmental and occupational health at the University of Montreal. "That's how they kill pests."

The pesticides act on a set of brain chemicals closely related to those involved in ADHD, Bouchard explains, "so it seems plausible that exposure to organophosphates could be associated with ADHD-like symptoms."




Children and Pesticides Don't mix

Children are especially vulnerable to pesticides

 The Naonal Academy of Sciences reports that children are more suscepble to chemicals than adults and esmates that 50% of lifeme pescide exposure occurs during the first five years of life.1

cancer cells. Infants and children, the aged and the chroni- cally ill are at greatest risk from chemically-induced immune suppression.11

 A study published by the American Cancer Society finds an increased risk for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL) in people exposed to common herbicides and fungicides, parcularly the weedkiller mecoprop (MCPP). People exposed to glypho- sate (Roundup®) are 2.7 mes more likely to develop NHL.12

 EPA concurs that children take in more pescides relave to body weight than adults and have developing organ systems that are more vulnerable and less able to detoxify toxic 13


 Infants crawling behavior and proximity to the floor account for a greater potenal than adults for dermal and inhalaon exposure to contaminants on carpets, floors, lawns, and soil.3

 Children with developmental delays and those younger than six years are at increased risk of ingesng pescides through nonfood items, such as soil.4

 Studies find that pescides such as the weedkiller 2,4-D pass from mother to child through umbilical cord blood and breast milk.5

 Consistent observaons have led invesgators to conclude that chronic low-dose exposure to certain pescides might pose a hazard to the health and development of children.6

 The World Health Organizaon (WHO) cites that over 30% of the global burden of disease in children can be aributed to environmental factors, including pescides.7

Children, cancer and pesticides

 The probability of an effect such as cancer, which requires a period of me to develop aer exposure, is enhanced if exposure occurs early in life.8

 A study published in the Journal of the Naonal Cancer Instute finds that household and garden pescide use can increase the risk of childhood leukemia as much as seven- fold.9

 Studies show that children living in households where pes- cides are used suffer elevated rates of leukemia, brain cancer and so ssue sarcoma.10

 Pescides can increase suscepbility to certain cancers by breaking down the immune system’s surveillance against

 75 out of all 99 human studies done on lymphoma and pes- cides find a link between the two.

 Four peer-reviewed studies demonstrate the ability of glyphosate-containing herbicides to cause genec damage to DNA (mutagenicity), even at very low concentraon levels.14

 A 2007 study published in Environmental Health Perspecves finds that children born to mothers living in households with pescide use during pregnancy had over twice as much risk of geng cancer, specifically acute leukemia (AL) or non- Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL).15

 A 2007 Canadian report shows that a greater environmen- tal risk exists for boys, specifically when it comes to cancer, asthma, learning and behavioral disorders, birth defects and tescular dysgenesis syndrome.16

for more of this article....


What lies beneath


By Sarah Gilman

It started with a rumor.

A pregnant woman heard warnings of birth defects among children born in her subdivision and contacted state health officials. The rumor was reportedly false, but tests revealed that the ground and water beneath the neighborhood were laced with poison.

This is Barber Orchard, just outside of Waynesville, N.C. From 1903 to the mid-'80s, these 438 acres were a productive apple orchard. Then a bank foreclosed and sold the land off in chunks. Houses, businesses and churches were built. But though the apple trees were gone, the underground piping system that sprayed them with pesticides left behind unusually high levels of toxic chemicals: arsenic, lead, aldrin, dieldrin, endrin, lindane, DDT and its breakdown products.

Locals were told to filter their water or use the municipal system. From late 1999 to 2000, the Environmental Protection Agency oversaw a $4 million emergency removal of soil from 28 yards. In 2001, the neighborhood was declared a Superfund site. And this month, the EPA plans to begin removing another 127,374 cubic yards of contaminated soil, a task that will require over 100 truck trips per day, last until September 2011 and reportedly cost $15 million.

It's the sort of story Westerners are accustomed to, but usually the pollution is from industry or mining -- the cancer-causing asbestos that lingers in the soil of Libby, Mont., say -- not farming. Indeed, officials responding to the orchard disaster felt they were breaking new ground. "We could be creating a guide for how regulatory agencies are going to handle this problem down the road," Steve Spurlin, the on-scene coordinator for the EPA's response and removal branch in Barber Orchard, told the Mount Airy News in 1999. "And it's not just apple orchards. People are building in (everything from) orange groves to cottonfields."

In the West, some 5.5 million acres of former farmland have been plowed under to make way for new development over the past 28 years. But a decade after contamination was discovered at Barber, how good are we at detecting and managing such problems? Not very, it turns out.

In this issue's cover story -- the product of months of investigation -- contributing editor Rebecca Clarren reveals a regulatory safety net full of holes. The federal government has not taken the lead on the issue; no Western state mandates testing for pesticides prior to conversion of farmland to private homes and businesses. Homeowners are often left holding the bag. And testing, to say nothing of remediation, is expensive.

And so the threat posed by lingering pesticides has become like a rumor itself: uncertain, but enough to keep you awake at night, wondering -- in a world where people are exposed to hundreds of synthetic chemicals before they're even born -- just what are your children playing in, every day?



Resolution 114-00
Author: Robert M. Gould, MD Introduced by: Robert M. Gould, MD

Whereas, pesticides released in one location may be a source of human exposure or environmental contamination several hundred feet to several hundred miles away, with possible chronic effects including cancer, birth defects, reproductive problems, developmental problems and nervous system damage; [1] and

Whereas, studies indicate that in some applications of pesticides, less than 1% of applied pesticides actually reach the target pest, while even under ideal aerial application circumstances, only 50% of the pesticides reach their target area; [2] and

Whereas, the California Pesticide Illness Surveillance Program reported 300 drift-related acute poisonings for 1996; [3] and

Whereas, according to scientists at the California Birth Defects Monitoring Project, children born to women living within a 1/4 mile of fields are more likely to suffer from certain kinds of birth defects [4]; and

Whereas, children are at greater risk of pesticide exposure than adults [5]; and Whereas, nearly four million Californians live within one half mile of heavy annual applications of 152 pesticides identified by state regulators as those most likely to contaminate air and threaten human health, with more than 30% of these pesticides having been designated by state or federal regulatory agencies as carcinogens, reproductive toxins or acute nerve poisons; [6] and

Whereas, an independent 2 year air sampling survey in eight California counties found that almost 2/3 of all samples contained pesticides known to cause cancer, brain damage, birth defects, acute poisonings, and other illnesses [7] ; therefore be it

RESOLVED: That the CMA support efforts to protect California communities from pesticides in the air by calling upon state agencies such as DHS and CALEPA to strengthen efforts to protect schools and residential areas from pesticide drift and off-site pesticide movement; and be it further

RESOLVED: That the CMA support a reduction in use of pesticides with significant acute and chronic toxicity, such as Proposition 65 pesticides and Category I and II pesticides, that have a capacity to drift to schools and residential areas; and be it further

RESOLVED: That the CMA recommend that state agencies such as DHS and CALEPA develop procedures to provide adequate notification of full- or part-time inhabitants of sites at risk of pesticide drift, as part of the statewide permitting process regarding plans for application of pesticides in such areas.


1. Zabik, JM and JN Seiber. 1993. "Atomospheric transport of organophosphate pesticide from California's Central Valley to the Sierra Nevada Mountains." Journal of Environmental Quality 22: 80-90; Baker, L et al. 1996. "Ambient air concentrations of pesticides in California." Environmental Science and Technology 30(4); Rice, CP and SM Chernyak. 1997. "Marine arctic fog: an accumulator of currently used pesticides." Chemospher 35(4): 867-878; Stubbs, H, Harris, J and Spear, R. A. Proportionate Mortality Analysis of California Agricultural Workers, 1978-1979. Am. J. Indust. Med. 6:305-320, 1984; Zahm, S, Ward, M, and Blair, A. Pesticides and Cancer. Occup. Med.: State of the Art Review, 12:269-289, 1997.

2. Pimentel, D and L Levitan. 1986. "Pesticides: amounts applied and amounts reaching pests." BioScience 36(2): 90; United States Congress, Office of Technology Assessment. 1990. "Beneath the bottom line: Agricultural approaches to reduce agric

hemical contamination. " Report No: OTA-4-418. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, p. 17. 3. California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) 1998. "Pesticide Illness Surveillance Program." Sacramento, CA.

4. Shaw, Gary M. et al. "Maternal Pesticide Exposure from Multiple Sources and Congenital Anomalies", Epidemiology, January 1999. Vol 10. #1, pp. 60-66.

5. National Research Council, Pesticides in the Diets of Infants and Children, Washington D.C.: National Academy Press, 1993.

6. Ross, Zev and Jonathan Kaplan. 1998. "Poisoning the Air," California Public Interest Research Group, San Francisco, CA

7. Environmental Working Group. 1999. "What You Don't Know Could Hurt You: Pesticides in California's Air", San Francisco, CA



Trouble on the Farm 
Growing Up with Pesticides in Agricultural Communities


Before World War II, growing up on the farm implied a healthy lifestyle -- lots of clean air, fresh food, and physical activity. Today, with the pervasive use of highly toxic agricultural pesticides, growing up on, or even near, agricultural land means potentially being surrounded by a swirl of poisons -- in the air, in water, on food, and on nearly everything a child touches, from a teddy bear to a parent's embrace.

Children are both more exposed to toxic substances in the environment than adults and more susceptible to many toxic chemicals. The National Academy of Sciences, in a pioneering 1993 report, clearly showed that children bear disproportionately high risks from our nation's use of pesticides on food. Their report focused on children's dietary exposure to pesticides but looked only at children living in non-agricultural areas. For many children, particularly those from agricultural families, food represents only a small portion of their total daily exposure to hazardous pesticides.

Children who live on or near agricultural land, or whose families work in the fields (called "farm children" in this report), come in contact with pesticides through residues from the parents' clothing, dust tracked into the house, contaminated soil in outdoor play areas, food brought directly from the fields to the table, and contaminated well water -- making these children likely to be the most pesticide-exposed subgroup in the United States. Children often accompany their parents to work in the fields, raising their pesticide exposures even higher. Many of the children with the greatest pesticide exposures are from migrant farmworker families, who are poor and usually people of color or recent immigrants. There is an increasingly compelling body of scientific evidence indicating that farm children face particularly significant health risks. Levels of exposure, when measured, have often exceeded federal reference doses or "safe levels," as determined by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA).

The impact of these exposures is far from trivial. There are nearly two million farms in the United States and over one billion acres of cropland.[1] An estimated five million agricultural workers labor on these farms.[2] There are more than 320,000 children under the age of six living on farms in the United States while hundreds of thousands more live adjacent to fields and have family members who work on farms.[3] The overall costs of the human health effects from pesticide exposures are considerable. Economists have estimated that the nationwide health impacts from pesticide use total as much as $786 million dollars per year.[4] The large numbers of affected people and the monetary and social costs of exposure are seldom considered when evaluating the costs and benefits of pesticide use.

The federal Food Quality Protection Act of 1996 (FQPA) contains provisions that recognize the vulnerability of all children. Under the FQPA, the U.S. EPA must determine if all tolerances for pesticide residues fully protect children from the hazards of pesticides. The law also requires that all routes of pesticide exposure, including non-dietary ingestion and dermal absorption, be considered in setting food tolerances. Pesticides that act through similar mechanisms of toxicity must be considered as having cumulative health impacts. Despite the clear provisions of the FQPA, the U.S. EPA has failed to consider all routes of exposure to pesticides, and has particularly failed to include the additional exposures faced by farm children when setting tolerances.

Similarly, EPA's federal regulation to protect farmworkers, the Worker Protection Standard, does not consider that some of those workers may be children and it does not adequately protect even those children who do remain at home from pesticide residues on parents' skin, clothing, and shoes.

FindingsNRDC has previously shown that pesticides should be considered one of the top five environmental threats to children's health.[5] Multiple exposures to pesticides are not unique to farm children. The food on our tables carries residues of the same pesticides that may have poisoned farm children, and our water is increasingly contaminated from agricultural runoff. Some of the same pesticides used in the fields are used in homes, schools, and day care centers. In this report, we further explore the threats to children's health from pesticides and identify the increased risk to farm children.

Pesticides Around Us

  • All children are disproportionately exposed to pesticides compared with adults due to their greater intake of food, water, and air per unit of body weight, their greater activity levels, narrower dietary choices, crawling, and hand-to-mouth behavior.

  • Fetuses, infants, and children are particularly susceptible to pesticides compared with adults because their bodies cannot efficiently detoxify and eliminate chemicals, their organs are still growing and developing, and because they have a longer lifetime to develop health complications after an exposure.

  • Pesticides can have numerous serious health effects, ranging from acute poisoning to cancers, neurological effects, and effects on reproduction and development.

  • Many pesticides that are never used indoors are tracked into the home and accumulate there at concentrations up to 100 times higher than outdoor levels.[6]

  • In non-agricultural urban or suburban households, an average of 12 different pesticides per home have been measured in carpet dust and an average of 11 different pesticide residues per household have been measured in indoor air in homes where pesticides are used.[7]

  • In an early 1990s nationwide survey of urinary pesticide residues in the general population, metabolites of two organophosphate pesticides, chlorpyrifos and parathion, were detected in 82 percent and 41 percent, respectively, of the people tested.[8]

  • In a rural community, all 197 children tested had urinary residues of the cancer-causing pesticide pentachlorophenol, all except six of the children had residues of the suspected carcinogen p-dichlorobenzene, and 20 percent had residues of the normally short-lived outdoor herbicide 2,4-D, which has been associated with non-Hodgkins lymphoma.[9]

Pesticides in Agricultural Areas

  • Children living in farming areas or whose parents work in agriculture are exposed to pesticides to a greater degree, and from more sources than other children.

  • The outdoor herbicide atrazine was detected inside all the houses of Iowa farm families sampled in a small study during the application season, and in only 4 percent of 362 non-farm homes.[10]

  • Neurotoxic organophosphate pesticides have been detected on the hands of farm children at levels that could result in exposures above U.S. EPA designated "safe" levels.[11]

  • Metabolites of organophosphate pesticides used only in agriculture were detectable in the urine of two out of every three children of agricultural workers and in four out of every ten children who simply live in an agricultural region.[12]

  • On farms, children as young as 10 can work legally, and younger children frequently work illegally or accompany their parents to the fields due to economic necessity and a lack of child care options. These practices can result in acute poisonings and deaths.

RecommendationsThere are many actions we can take today to reduce the unjust exposure burden borne by farm children, and thereby protect all children from one of the five greatest environmental threats to their health. A summary of NRDC's recommendations follows, including several actions recommended by farmworker groups over the years. (See Chapter 7 of this report for a fuller description.)

Regulatory Protection
  • Pesticide tolerance decisions under the FQPA should consider all the exposures faced by farm children and set food tolerances low enough to protect these children from cumulative health risks.

  • U.S. EPA must use an additional safety factor of at least tenfold as required by FQPA to be sure to adequately protect farm children if there is uncertainty about their exposures, or about the toxicity of the pesticide to fetuses, infants, and children.

  • The farm Worker Protection Standard should be reevaluated to better protect children who accompany their parents to work in the fields, as recommended by the federal Children's Health Protection Advisory Committee.

  • Phase out Category I acutely toxic pesticides, and phase out use of the most hazardous neurotoxic organophosphate and carbamate pesticides, endocrine disrupters, and carcinogens, while developing and promoting alternative pest management practices.

Research Needed
  • Improved reporting systems are necessary for tracking pesticide use and pesticide-related illnesses as recommended by the American Medical Association.[13]

  • Pesticides should not be registered for use unless there is an established sensitive and accurate scientific method for measuring residues of that pesticide and its metabolites in food, water, and human blood or urine.

  • Regional public laboratories capable of precisely and accurately measuring low-levels of environmental toxicants in environmental media and human tissues should be established. Such laboratories would allow improved surveillance, exposure assessment in research studies, and the ability to respond rapidly to environmental disasters.

  • Research should focus on the exposures and health status of farm children, with involvement of communities and farmworker groups in the study design. More data will allow more informed decision-making.

Practical Actions

  • Subsidized day care should be provided for working families with young children. Farm workers must receive a living wage and benefits, so that their children are not forced to work in order to survive.

  • Workers must be informed about the identity of chemicals they may be exposed to, and the known or potential health effects of these chemicals. Only with full knowledge can they take action to protect themselves and their families.

  • Pesticide use in and around schools and day care centers should be reduced by requiring that all schools and day care centers have integrated pest management (IPM) programs and by creating buffer zones around schools located in agricultural areas. Parents and teachers must be informed about pesticide use. Hazardous pesticides should not be used in such facilities at all.

  • Expanded integrated pest management (IPM) programs and organic farming will ultimately help most in reducing pesticide exposures for our children and grand children.

If farm children are not protected from pesticides, then the U.S. EPA is failing to implement the law, and our society is failing to protect its future. The food on our tables comes at a cost that remains hidden from many people. Although farm children are on the front lines, bearing the brunt of pesticide exposures, other children are not far behind. If we adequately protect farm children, the most exposed children in our society, then we will better protect all children.


A Generation in Jeopardy: How pesticides are undermining our children’s health & intelligence

Kids today are sicker than they were a generation ago, and a growing body of scientific evidence points to pesticides as a reason why. From childhood cancers to learning disabilities and asthma, a wide range of childhood diseases and disorders are on the rise.

Please click on this link to read more on the research: