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Attention to Children Urged in Weighing Policies on Pesticides

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WASHINGTON--The federal government's scientific and regulatory policies are "seriously deficient'' in protecting infants and children from the potentially harmful health effects of pesticides in their diets, according to a National Research Council report.

The Congressionally mandated study, conducted by the National Academy of Sciences and released last month, concludes that few data have been collected on the effects of children's exposure to pesticides. As a result, there is a "potential concern that some children may be ingesting unsafe levels of pesticides,'' the report concludes.

Most federal pesticide regulations, which weigh the benefits of foods against the dangers of certain chemicals, are based on laboratory tests and food surveys that do not adequately reflect children's eating habits, the report says.

In addition, regulators often group children in broad age categories that fail to reflect the rapid changes that occur in a child's diet, the authors say.

The N.A.S. also found that because their immune systems and internal organs are still developing, children may be "more sensitive than adults'' to certain pesticides.

The authors stressed, however, that their findings should not prompt parents to alter their children's diets.

"Our report should not be a cause for alarm,'' said Dr. Philip J. Landrigan, a pediatrician and the lead author of the study. As always, "children should eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables to get the vitamins and minerals they need,'' Dr. Landrigan said.

The report urges the federal government to:

  • Develop tests for studying toxicity in immature laboratory animals to evaluate how infants and children respond to these chemicals.
  • Gather food-consumption-survey data for children at one-year intervals up to age 5; between ages 5 and 10; and between ages 11 and 18 to better reflect children's dietary patterns.
  • Consider "all sources of dietary and nondietary pesticide exposure,'' including drinking water, soil, air, pets, and lawns.
  • Standardize reporting procedures on pesticide hazards to children.
  • Conduct research on the lifetime cancer risk from exposure to pesticides.

Unusual Endorsement

In an unusual joint announcement last month, President Clinton, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Agriculture Department endorsed the N.A.S. plan and pledged to promote research on alternative forms of pest control.

Marshall Matz, a spokesman for the American School Food Service Association, recalling the scare in 1989 when school workers pulled apples from school lunches following a report by an environmental group linking the pesticide Alar to childhood cancer, said he was reassured by the Administration's response.

"We are delighted that they raised a subject in a scientific way without creating a panic or disrupting the school-lunch program,'' he said.

Copies of the report, "Pesticides in the Diets of Infants and Children,'' are available for $47.95 each by calling the National Academy Press at (800) 624-6242.

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