Can Pesticides harm Your Children (Archived Pedcast)

News flash-the world that your children are growing up in is a world full of chemicals.  We are just beginning to understand what these chemicals do to your children’s health. Pesticides, manufacturing chemicals, jet fuel, chemicals in sunscreens and cosmetics, household chemicals, flame retardants, plastic packaging, medicines etc etc.   The EPA requires that manufacturers log their manufactured chemicals in a database and by 2012; they had logged 82,000 chemicals being manufactured and used in the U.S.!  Very worrisome, since many of these chemicals have strong biologic effects on children, persist in the environment long after use, have potentially damaging effects on a child’s nervous systems, have the potential to alter a child’s delicate hormone balances that regulate much of their physiology, and can even triggered some cancers.

Image by Pixabay

More on all that in a moment. In today’s pedcast you are going to hear a discussion about one family of chemicals that you definitely need to be familiar with, namely pesticides.  Your child’s long-term health may be on the line from exposure to these chemicals so it is upon you to familiarize yourself with these chemicals.  Stay tuned and I am going to fill you in on some of the essential facts parents need to know about the adverse health effects of pesticides on children and how you can avoid your child’s exposure to them. Stay informed, stay engaged, and of course, stay tuned.


How do pesticides work?  A Trip Down Science Drive.

First let’s define the type of products that make up the pesticide category; these include insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, and fumigants– all meant to kill or keep pests away. To understand the damaging effects of pesticides, we are going to need to take a brief trip down Science Drive to understand how pesticides work. Let’s start with a quote from the World health Organization’s 2008 report on Toxicity of pesticides on children:

“Pesticides are toxic by design – they are BIOCIDES, designed to kill, reduce or repel insects, weeds, rodents, fungi or other organisms that can threaten public health and the economy. Their mode of action is by targeting systems or enzymes in the pests which may be identical or very similar to systems or enzymes in human beings and therefore, they pose risks to human health and the environment. Pesticides are ubiquitous in the environment and most are synthetic. There is growing concern about children’s exposure to pesticides and their special susceptibility. Children are not little adults, and may have higher exposures and greater vulnerability at both high and low levels of exposure.”

In other words, in order for pesticides to work, they need to be toxic to living things like insects, fungi, weeds, and rodents. Unfortunately, the biochemistry and cellular machinery of insects, fungi, weeds, and rodents, isn’t all that different from that of you and your children. Your children can become collateral damage in our war against pests, mainly by three mechanisms:

Mechanism #1-By interfering with critical enzymes in the nervous systems of pests. To see this in action, just spray some insect repellent on some ants and watch what happens… first they stop moving, then they start shaking with convulsions, and then they die. This all happens within minutes of exposure. The ant’s nervous system has been short circuited by the pesticides, the pesticide interfering with neurons talking to neurons. News flash, these are the same enzyme systems that control your children’s nervous systems.

Mechanism #2- By interfering with the organism’s critical enzyme function such as enzymes that are needed to produce and use chlorophyll or even cellular energy itself. A cell that can’t produce energy, no matter what type of organism it lives in, is destined to be a dead cell.

Mechanism #3- By causing oxidation within the cells of the targeted organisms. Remember that word oxidation from chemistry class? It is just a fancy word for the process of burning. Cells die when they are chemically oxidized enough because critical systems of life simply stop functioning. That cell is fried so to speak.


What adverse health effects do children sustain from pesticides?

What adverse health effects do children sustain from pesticides? There is a growing body of research that demonstrates that pesticides can harm children, especially their nervous systems.  And when it comes to toxicity, investigators find that the younger a child is at the time of exposure, the more likely an adverse effect is to occur. This is super important for you to remember. That means, during pregnancy, and the first few years of life are probably the most important time to protect children from pesticides or any other type of chemicals. This is when their nervous systems are developing!  It only makes sense.  Which leads me to this Doc Smo pearl, “Like with many parenting decisions, less can be more.”  When we apply this principle to exposure to the myriad of chemicals that come with modern agricultural practices, this principle is spot on.  Having less exposure to pesticides generally means having more good health for your kids.

Understand, that the neurologic effects of pesticides on children are the easiest toxic effects to see. It doesn’t take much googling before you start to find some frightening stuff with regards to the bad effects of pesticides on children’s brains. Let’s start with this quote from a 2013 article in the AAP’s journal called Pediatrics: “Among the findings associated with increased pesticide levels are poorer mental development by using the Bayley index (a measure of young children’s IQ) and increased scores on measures assessing pervasive developmental disorder, inattention, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.” Could American’s low threshold use of pesticides be behind the explosion of cases of ADHD and autism we are seeing today? Some epidemiologists think so. Or consider this article, published in Workplace Health in 2012. Listen to the conclusion the authors came to in this review article about pesticide exposure in children: “Given the evidence about the potential links between prenatal and early childhood pesticide exposure and neurological and behavioral deficits, a variety of potential interventions should be tested at the policy, public health, and individual levels. It is vital to assess how children are exposed, the clinical implications of exposure, and education to improve understanding about exposure and outcomes.”  It doesn’t sound like they are just a little worried, they are a lot worried and are suggesting a lot more needs to be done to protect children.

And, if that is not to get you worried about your little ones, links have also been made between pesticide exposures and leukemia, lymphomas, and brain tumors in children.  All, good reasons to minimize your children’s exposures… especially during their fetal life and your child’s early years.



What are some practical things you can do to protect your children?

So, let’s get down to the practical. After all, this podcast is called Portable Practical Pediatrics. Here are some ideas of ways to reduce pesticides from your children’s living environment.  I am sure there are more.

#1 Buy organic if you can afford it, especially for foods known to have strong pesticides residues and especially when you are pregnant or your children are young.  To do this, learn which foods comprise the EWG’s dirty dozen (those with heavy residues of pesticides) and the clean fifteen ( those with minimal pesticide residues) and adjust your shopping accordingly.

#2 And while you are at the EWG’s website, download their app and refer to it when doing your shopping.  The app can help you not only reduce your children’s exposure to pesticides, but chemicals of all sorts. It’s a must for savvy parents.

#3 Wash fruits and veggies before you offer them to your children to eat.

#4 Cut the skins off non organic thin skinned fruits like apples, pears, peaches, and tomatoes whenever possible before you serving them.

#5 And here is a neat trick that can remove a lot of pesticide residue from fruits and veggies that you intend to serve your children that I read in a  Consumer Reports Article. In their tests, they found that soaking fruits and veggies in baking soda wash (in the proportion of 1 teaspoon to 2 cups of water) removed almost all the pesticide residues on the surface of fruits and vegetables.

#6 Try never to use a bomb or fumigant inside your home, but if this vital, don’t do so without professional help.

#7 Lock up pesticides in a safe place, away from your children.

#8 If fertilizers with herbicides are applied to your yard, keep your children off the turf until there has been considerable rain and time since you applied them.

#9 Try not to use any pesticides in your vegetable garden, rather use natural methods. Garden stores and the Internet can tell you how.

#10 Always use the least toxic product that will work. You will probably need help deciding on which products these are.

#11 As a reference, I have links to the AAP suggestions and the EPA’s suggestions to minimize your children’s exposure to pesticides.


Review of Final Points:

And just to make sure you didn’t miss a few super important points from this pedcast, let’s go over them one more time:


– Pesticides can harm children by the same biologic mechanisms that they harm the pests they are designed to control

– Children are more sensitive to the negative/toxic effects of pesticides than are adults.

– The earlier in life a child has exposure to a pesticide, the more likely that exposure is to have negative effects.

– There exists strong evidence that early exposure to pesticides cause behavioral and neurologic effects on children.

-And finally, with some time and care, you have a lot of control on whether your children are exposed to pesticides.


I hope you found that discussion informative and practical. If you enjoy learning about pediatrics and child health with pedcasts, consider taking a moment to rate this blog and podcast on iTunes or Facebook. Your review helps others find my show for which I would be very grateful. This is your host, Doc Smo, your children childhoods that are both green and clean. Until next time.


Many thanks to Dr. Monica Miller and Dr. Charlotte Rouchouze for their editorial comments and help in the writing of this pedcast.