children are not little adults
This is the conclusion of the National Research Council (NRC) report "Pesticides in Infant and Child Nutrition" and this sentence must be understood to assimilate why young children are more vulnerable to pesticides than adults.
It is above all a question of proportions.
In relation to their weight, in the first six months of life young children ingest seven times more fluid than adults and eat many more vegetables. In conventional agriculture, these plants are often treated with pesticides and contain one or more pesticide residues.
In addition, their breathing is about twice as fast as that of an adult, so they absorb more air and dust through inhalation than adults. Children are therefore more affected by air pollution.
Pesticides in homes?
Many consumer goods such as furniture and bedding are treated with insecticides and/or fungicides to protect them during maritime transport or to limit the proliferation of dust mites and bed bugs.
Contamination of the indoor environment by pesticides can also originate from the treatment of domestic animals (fipronil) that will carry these toxic chemicals on their coats.
Finally, insecticide treatments against mosquitoes (permethrin, diffuser or spray) persist in the indoor environment and settle on children's floors, furniture and toys.
It is also a question of behaviour.
Because of their size, children very often play at ground level, possibly on a mat, and then start crawling. They are therefore exposed to all substances contained in dust deposited on the ground, including pesticides.
In addition, children easily put everything in their mouths and are therefore exposed to pesticides also by ingestion with the same health effects.
Are foetuses affected by pesticides?
Yes, if during pregnancy the mother uses pesticides, eats products treated with pesticides or lives in an environment that contains pesticides. Many pesticides cross the placental barrier. Traces of pesticides are found in the umbilical cord, placenta, amniotic fluid or meconium (first stool of the infant). The fetus is therefore exposed to a cocktail of toxic molecules including endocrine disrupting pesticides. These chemical molecules have low-dose effects and can induce hormone system dysfunction with effects on the formation of the foetus' organs.
Can breast milk contain pesticides?
Yes, most pesticides are lipophilic and have a high affinity for fats. Since milk is composed of fat, it naturally stores and concentrates the pesticides to which the mother is exposed (inhalation and ingestion). Therefore, if the mother is exposed to insecticides, fungicides or herbicides, her milk will also be exposed and the infant will be exposed to these toxic products.
However, breast milk is still preferable because it allows the child to develop a better immune system than powdered milk.
Can pesticides reach children through food?
Yes, according to EFSA in 2016, 48% of fruits and vegetables from conventional agriculture contain pesticide residues. These plants are also used in processed products. Even if industrial baby foods are spared (less than 4% contain pesticide residues), children are also exposed to pesticides through the food they ingest. The presence of pesticide residues depends on the nature of the food and the treatments applied (amount and nature of the pesticide).
It is strongly recommended to consume products from organic farming that will contain little or no pesticide residues and limit children's exposure to these substances that are toxic to humans.
The principle of proportion mentioned above must be kept in mind, what is acceptable to an adult is more difficult to accept for a child. This is all the more important as nutrition is a key factor in child development.
Can pesticides reach children with care products?
Yes, the most striking example is lice shampoos that contain insecticides applied directly to the child's scalp.
Similarly, in areas where mosquitoes are feared because of the diseases they carry (malaria, dengue fever, zika, chikungunyna, etc.), the use of insecticides will affect young children. The consequences of these diseases are serious and it is not yet possible to do without insecticide treatments to control mosquitoes.
Recently, pesticide residues have been measured in some brands of diapers and baby wipes.
Are urban children spared from pesticides?
No. Pesticides are present in cities and villages. They are often used in green spaces or to eliminate pests in homes. The adoption of policies to stop the use of pesticides in some municipalities is too recent in view of the resilience of these products.
Are rural children spared from pesticides?
No. It is often worse than in cities because insecticide, fungicide and spray herbicide applications are common in the countryside. If you live near so-called "conventional" crops then there is a good chance that some pesticides will migrate into your home even long after spraying.
If a family member uses pesticides at work, then he or she is almost certain to bring some back on his or her clothes or shoes.
Another frequent case is not the house that is close to the crops but the school that was built not far from the fields and is contaminated by pesticides. Children are therefore exposed to these toxic products during their school years.
How do you know if there are pesticides in your environment?
Pesticides are more persistent in the indoor environment and are present in fine dust that is inhaled daily at home or in the office.
The best way is to take a dust sample followed by a laboratory analysis. This will give you an accurate picture of whether there are pesticides in the environment, which ones and at what rates.
If you live in the city use a Domestic Pesticide test, if you are in the countryside not far from crops then choose an Agricultural Pesticide test.