Pesticides are poisons
It is estimated that there are 25 million cases of pesticide poisoning each year, and 80% of all poisonings occur in developing countries where regulatory, health, and education systems are weakest. For more than a decade the staff and associates of The Field Alliance have been working to reduce the use of pesticides by supporting training of farmers in Integrated Pest Management’ (IPM).
In addition to IPM training, innovative health studies have been facilitated by Field Alliance Partners in a number of countries. During these studies, farmers and school children have collected and analysed data about the use of pesticides in their communities and recorded signs and symptoms of poisoning. The results are helping rural families to make healthier decisions, while also providing policy makers with a ‘reality check’ which may encourage them to strengthen pesticide regulations.
Women and children are most vulnerable
Children are most vulnerable to the impacts of pesticides because they have limited control over their environment and surroundings and their brains and bodies are still developing. Women are also particularly vulnerable due to low body weight and particular genetic predispositions. Even very low-level exposure to pesticides can greatly affect growth and health. Per unit of body weight, children are exposed to more pesticides than adults through the air they breathe, the water they drink, and the food they eat.
Children face exposure at multiple stages of their development, starting in the womb via entrance through the umbilical cord or placenta and through the food that mothers consume during pregnancy. In infancy, they are exposed through baby foods (even processed) and breast milk.
Children from rural areas are particularly at risk, often playing, or even working, in fields and other areas covered in pesticides. Even at school, spray from surrounding fields is carried through the air and water to school areas. Pesticides are also often used on school property and in public places like parks or markets. The Field Alliance’s partner in Thailand, Thai Education Foundation, recently launched a ‘Safe School Lunch’ program, testing the food students consume for school lunches and residues in urine involved over 400 primary school students in 55 schools from 4 regions of Thailand. The results from the studies had shown that vegetables and fruits from local markets used for school lunch are nearly 100% contaminated with pesticides (organophosphate and pyrethroids). Nearly 100% of students and teachers’ urine also detected organophosphates. Chlorpyrifos was the most frequently detected chemical in both vegetables and human. However, this study is inconclusive as further investigation is needed to see if other mostly used pesticides of carbamate, pyrethroids, paraquat and glyphosate are residual in students and teachers’ urine. The results of these studies were used to discuss and plan for policies and measures with regards to the safe school lunch and establishment of green market at the local, district, provincial and the national levels.
The Field Alliance is also currently conducting a regional study on the impact of pesticides to students in high risk areas, particularly from schools that are located near fields where farmers are known to spray frequently and using high concentrations. Status pesticides uses and impacts in SE Asia 9.11.18
Effects on children
Research has determined that there are pesticides are harmful to both the physical and mental health of children.
Physical effects include but are not limited to:
- Childhood cancer, Reproductive problem
- Metabolic disorders, obesity, and diabetes
- Immune system problems, allergies, asthma
- Birth defects (undeveloped brains and skulls, deformed limbs, facial deformities, reproductive issues)
- Still births, premature births, and low birth weight
Mental and behavioral effects can include:
- Altered brain structure and functions leading to ADHD, learning disorders, low IQ, autism, and impaired motor function
- Possible link to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease as a result of childhood exposure to pesticides
- Health Effects of Pesticide Use: Methods for Conducting Community Studies with Farmers and Children. The latest version of a manual written by Helen Murphy who has developed these training and action research activities in collaboration with IPM trainers including those now working with The Field Alliance [PDF file, 30 pages, 1.1 MB].
- Summary of Farmer Health Studies. This report provides an analysis of 11 studies presented at the Conference on Health Effects of Pesticides, March 2002, sponsored by PAN and the FAO Community IPM Programme [document to be added soon]..
- Ban Pa Thorn School Children’s Studies on the Health Effects of Pesticides. Detailed description of a study carried out in Thailand, documented by Pornphan Namrat and Mongkon Tianponkrang for Thai Education Foundation, February 2002 [document to be added soon].
- A Survey on the Health Effects of Pesticides Survey as Part of a Farmer Field School Exercise in Cambodia. Ang Soa Yan, Kouk Keuk and Say San, IPM Farmer Trainer, FAO/Srer Khmer, Cambodia, February 2002 [document to be added soon].
- Toxic Trail. A site developed by staff of The Field Alliance to supplement the BBC documentary about pesticides and IPM in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia. Fact-sheets and scientific papers can be downloaded from the site.
- Pesticide Action Network (PAN) is a global coalition of citizen’s groups and individuals who oppose the misuse and overuse of pesticides. Three PAN websites provide information about various campaigns and resources. PAN Asia and Pacific, PAN North America, PAN UK
- The Environmental Defense Fund maintains an on-line database of technical information about pesticides, with links to other authoritative sources.
- For general information about chemicals and health, the World Wildlife Fund has a Global Toxics Initiative which is a useful source of information about agricultural pollution, persistent organic pollutants (POPS) and endocrine disruptors.
- Another good source of information on chemicals and health is the Environmental Research Foundation. The site includes an archive of Rachel’s Weekly, a free newsletter which is available by e-mail.