Most people know that they and their children are exposed to pesticides on foods, says Dr. Mattison. But many may not be aware of the quantity or pervasiveness of other pesticides that can be encountered in a typical day. Pesticides can be found in schools, playground and gardens, in sprays used at home, in public buildings and on airplanes.
Two of the most popular classes of insecticides used in the U.S. are organophosphates and carbamates. They are designed as neurotoxins, poisoning the nervous systems of unwanted insects. However, Dr. Mattison warns, they can harm human nervous systems as well. They are found in lawn sprays, weed killer sprays, roach and ant sprays, and even head-lice shampoo.
Children are more vulnerable to the effects of pesticide exposure because their internal organs are still developing and maturing, cautions Dr. Mattison. Also, some of their activities such as playing on floors or lawns or putting objects in their mouths can increase their exposure to pesticides.
Pregnant women should take extra precautions because pesticides may harm a developing child by blocking the absorption of important food nutrients in the womb. Some pesticides are known hormone disrupters that can cause reproductive system abnormalties and behavioral changes, especially in fetuses and young children.
To protect from exposure when applying pesticides and herbicides indoors:
- Follow the directions on the label.
- Use bait stations instead of sprays.
- Keep babies, children and pregnant women out of the house while spraying.
- Remove dishes and utensils and keep food in airtight containers.
- Ventilate the house during and after spraying.
- If you're pregnant, have someone else wash off surfaces where food is prepared or served.
When applying pesticides and herbicides outdoors:
- Instead of using chemicals, have your child help you pull out weeds.
- If you're pregnant, have someone do it for you.
- Close your windows and turn off air conditioners.
- Cover children's play equipment and bring toys inside.
- Wear gloves to avoid skin contact.
- Store products in the original containers and out of children's reach.
The EPA is reviewing some of these chemicals, adds Dr. Mattison. Earlier this year, the EPA banned the popular pesticide Dursban as an unacceptable risk to children.