THE BLOG
09/19/2014 05:00 pm ET Updated Nov 19, 2014

Kids vs. Pesticides

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It is an idyllic childhood for children to grow up around farming. However, some farming uses conventional methods of agriculture that include the use of some harmful pesticides. Pesticides are not restricted to agriculture but may also be used on lawns in the suburbs and indoors especially in urban areas.

While farming is an American staple, agriculture adjacent to schools with children is risky. Children depend on us as the "grown ups" to keep them safe. We all want children safe in schools, especially our neighbor the farmer who very likely has his or her children in the adjacent school. Farmers are especially challenged, as they may bring pesticides into their home through contaminated clothes, shoes or equipment and are faced with keeping their families safe in a way that many non-farmers may not recognize.

There are no "bad guys" here, however unfortunate circumstances of positioning children near agricultural sites.

While there are some less toxic chemicals, we certainly do not want our children exposed to any pesticides, as warned by the federal agencies. Pesticides are poison, and how they interact with children can be devastating causing serious health consequences. Pesticide applications in general should not occur in near range of children, as the potential for drifting chemicals can be inhaled and absorbed through skin contact. Another transmission is ground water for drinking, where pesticides can seep.

No matter how careful the applicator, pesticides when being spread can and do drift onto schools from adjacent sites. Drift is the movement of pesticides through the air. Children have the potential to breathe these toxic chemicals or come in contact via skin on the playground. Pesticides impact children in a unique way both short and long term. Links to pesticides have been made to a wide breadth of health issues to include developmental disorders such as autism and attention deficit disorder.

While there are chemical trespass laws, for many states, the systems in place are virtual air kisses and proving chemical trespass can be especially difficult and complicated as designed by state enforcement. Currently, policies at best that include buffer zones and vegetative barriers are simply not enough.

Sometimes pesticide exposures are not as evident. For example, children who attend schools adjacent to agricultural who present symptoms of an upset stomach or a wheezing chest may or may not be viral. The Environmental Protection Agency manual for health care professionals makes recommendations for treating patients with pesticide-related illnesses or injuries "When an individual exposed to pesticides does seek care, diagnosis has its set of challenges. Differential diagnosis is difficult because signs and symptoms of pesticide-related illnesses are often nonspecific and may be confused with common illnesses unrelated to pesticide exposure."

Unfortunately, solutions are not around the corner for protecting children from the increasing risk of pesticide drift from adjacent agriculture. As a parent, I initiated "best practices" in Virginia for reducing pesticide drift back in 2005 under the then Governor Mark Warner administration to help prevent exposures to children in schools. I did so to protect all children in Virginia. I am devoted in my life's work to fuel leadership through education in reducing and preventing health risks linked with cancer. Our job as parents is to join in the work to secure healthy futures and more immediately to make sure that our children do not suffer unnecessary and preventable exposures to pesticides.