Pesticides Place Children and Pets at Risk

Children are not simply small versions of adults-they can be affected more easily, and more seriously, by pesticides and other contaminants.

In recent years there has been increasing concern about the health effects of exposure to pesticides, especially in children. This is partly due to the mounting toxicological evidence that children’s exposures can be more hazardous than adult exposures, and because of the number of health effects in children that can be attributed to pesticide exposure.

Children and adults can be exposed directly, when pesticides are sprayed, or indirectly, after they have entered the environment. There are six major exposure pathways, including food, water, air, soil, dust, and sediments. People are actually exposed by ingesting or inhaling pesticides or coming into skin contact with them. The ingestion of food is the major route of exposure for many persistent pesticides, such as DDT.

Pesticides can cause different types of health effects in children. For many years, the human health risks associated with the use of pesticides have been studied using toxicology and epidemiology, but these approaches have deficiencies. One of the main issues is that the processes used to set guidelines and objectives do not explicitly consider children’s exposures and risks. Children’s exposures and risks can be higher than adults. Children are not merely “little adults.” They eat more food, drink more water, and breathe more air per kilogram of body weight than adults. Their metabolism is different, and they may be more sensitive to pesticide exposure via skin contact. Furthermore, children’s behaviours and the height of their “breathing zones” may result in higher pesticide exposures.

On a global basis, it has been estimated that about 220,000 people a year die from pesticide poisoning and over 700,000 are thought to suffer chronic effects from pesticide exposures, however, there is very little epidemiological information on the effects of pesticides in Canadian populations. It is clear that pesticides can cause a variety of effects, depending on the type of pesticide, the dose, the route of exposure, and the sensitivity of the people exposed. Acute effects and poisoning can include damage to the central nervous system, nausea, vomiting, and headache. Chronic effects include cancer, and developmental effects associated with the ability of some pesticides to disrupt the endocrine hormone system.

Children can be exposed to pesticides at home in several different ways, including through the use of pesticides used indoors to control pests such as cockroaches, ants, and termites, as well as pesticides used in the garden or yard. The use of pesticides on pets, including flea collars and powders, can be a source of exposure. Exposures can occur through inhalation, skin contact with treated objects or surfaces, and through ingestion.

The ingestion of soil and dust containing pesticides can be an important route of exposure for young children, and house dust can contain residues of up to 100 parts per billion. Pesticides can also be tracked inside and deposited on carpets.

Many schools and daycare facilities use pesticides to control indoor pests, such as cockroaches, as well as to maintain school grounds outside, and children can be exposed via inhalation, ingestion, and skin contact. There is no comprehensive information on the use of pesticides in Canadian schools and day-cares, or on children’s exposures and risks. In the US, there have been numerous poisoning incidents involving individuals, groups of students, and even whole schools. In response, the use of integrated pest management has become increasingly common.

In recent years, there has been increasing concern about the acute and chronic health effects of exposure to pesticides, especially in children. This is partly due to the mounting toxicological evidence that children’s exposures to pesticides can be more hazardous than adult exposures, and also because of the number of health effects in children that can be attributed to pesticide exposure.

* From: CPR! The Campaign for Pesticide Reduction, 412-1 Nicholas St, Ottawa, ON K1N 7B7; ph: (613)241-4611; fax (613)241-2292; email:


Chemical Cocktails Threaten Pets
Pesticides not only threaten the environment, they can also poison the family pooch.
by Leonard Fraser


Many of us take the responsibility for the care and attention of our pets very seriously. We wouldn’t for one second hesitate to ensure that the best available diet and veterinary care is provided for them.

But do we extend that same sense of love and caring for our pets, especially dogs and cats, to where they spend much of their time? The answer is probably no, considering the way in which many home owners use and abuse pesticides in the yard and garden. As a result, not only is our health and that of the environment in jeopardy, but also the health of our pets.

The widespread use of pesticides by homeowners has resulted in the environment drinking a highly toxic chemical cocktail that can last for generation upon generation, and your pets are living and playing in it every day!

Many pesticides have effects that are suspected to be carcinogenic, cause permanent respiratory ailments, sterility and many residual effects, just to mention a few. Dogs and cats spend most of their outside time on lawns either at home or, as in the case of dogs, in our parks. Remember, in Canada and the United States, there are approximately 5.5 million acres of home lawns where over $6 billion a year is spent just to keep them looking good.

We apply upwards of 10 pounds of pesticides per acre of lawn every year. That’s just lawns and doesn’t include vegetable gardens or other landscape applications. We really think our lawns are something special. Why not? After all, they do act as great barriers in preventing dust, dirt, pollen, and noise from entering and contaminating our interior living spaces. But surely not at the expense of our pets’ health.

One example of a chemical that could be contributing to their ill-health is 2,4-D.

According to the Handbook For Pesticide Applicators and Dispensers, 2,4-D is a phonoxyacetic compound, a very large family of herbicides that includes related compounds like MCPA, 2,4-D, MCPB, 2,4,5,T (not registered for use in Canada) and MCPP. They have recognizable trade names like Weedaway, Weedex, Weedone, Sure-Shot, Killex, No-Weed, Mecoturf, Botanixa or Kil-Mor.

They are all highly volatile, giving them an aromatic property that to a cat or dog would be extremely irritating. They are considered to be moderately toxic to mammals and they are all toxic to fish. Now I don’t know about you, but when something is toxic to fish, I consider that a sure sign there may be a problem for me and my pets too.

It is the most commonly used herbicide in home lawns. Most of those pesticide tank trucks that pull up across the street carry it. (Not at my house!) Garden centre shelves are lined with bottles and cans of it. It has been known to sometimes contain dioxins, which are highly toxic.

Skin exposure to 2,4-D has resulted in acute delayed nervous system damage in humans. It was a major component in Agent Orange, whose use is still being felt 30 years later in Vietnam. A study commissioned by the National Cancer Institute in the US linked 2,4-D with increased incidence of lymphatic cancer. All this from just one chemical applied to our home lawns.

What about pets? Their skin is more sensitive than ours and they use their tongues to clean themselves! They can, just like we humans, be exposed via absorption through the skin, breathing and, of course, ingestion.

If you think your pet has been exposed, watch for these signs: salivation, vomiting, weeping eyes and sinuses, fatigue, and distorted vision which would result in impaired mobility. Remember that pesticides are poisons that not only damage our environment, but the health of people and pets.

What all this means is that we really don’t need to stay on this chemical treadmill in order to have attractive and valuable landscapes.

It is not hard to change the way we look after our home landscapes. We just have to understand that change takes some time, commitment and information.

* Leonard Fraser is Executive Director of the Canadian Earthcare Society, 1476 Water St, Kelowna, BC V1Y 1J5

* EarthCare and its Resource Centre provide members with a wide variety of information to enrich their gardens, their pets and themselves. For more information, contact your local environmental group, or check the website of the BC Environmental Network.


[From WS August/September 1998]

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