Children Living in Agricultural Areas are Developing Leukemia, Brain Tumors and Other Childhood Cancers at an Accelerated Rate
Health problems in children have risen significantly in recent years, and the cause is primarily environmental. That’s the bottom line of a new report released by the Pesticide Action Network entitled “Kids on the Frontline,” which details the harmful and potentially fatal health effects pesticides are having on America’s children.
Using government health trend data and recent academic research, PAN found that incidences of cancer, autism, developmental disabilities, ADHD, diabetes and obesity have risen significantly over the last three and a half decades.
Childhood cancers, particularly, are becoming much more common among children living in rural areas where pesticides are routinely applied. From the year 1975 to 2012, childhood cancers rose 36 percent in children aged zero to 19.
Mounting evidence links pesticides to neurodevelopmental harms
“Evidence linking pesticide exposure to increased risk of leukemia and brain tumors continues to mount, with new ‘meta-analysis’ studies pointing to higher risks among children in rural agricultural areas. Incidence of these two cancers is rising more quickly than other types of childhood cancer,” the report found.
Health problems related to prenatal pesticide exposure are also on the rise. Mounting evidence highlights the impact prenatal pesticide exposure has on neurological and nervous system development in children. The link was strong in 2012, reports PAN, but it’s grown even stronger.
“New studies link increased risk of developmental disorders and delays—including autism spectrum disorder—to prenatal proximity to agricultural fields where pesticides are sprayed.”
Children living in agricultural areas essentially get a “double dose” of pesticide exposure. In addition to exposure via food and applications in schools, parks, homes and gardens, children in rural areas face exposure from pesticide drift and water contaminated with farming chemicals.
“In some cases, these children also experience economic and social stressors that can exacerbate the health harms of agricultural chemicals. Across the country, rural children are on the frontlines of pesticide exposure,” the report found.
How to protect children from pesticides
Researchers say the best way to protect children from harm caused by pesticides is to “dramatically reduce the volume of use nationwide.” This goal is “both achievable and long overdue,” says PAN. “The burden of protecting children from dangerous chemicals cannot rest with individual families; policy change is required.”
For more than a century, pesticide regulations have centered on one concept: getting the products to market. As a result, more than 680 million pounds of pesticides are applied to farm fields each year, according to government data from 2007, the most recent available. When non-agricultural use is included, this number balloons to more than a billion.
“Ever-stronger science shows that even at low levels of exposure, many of these chemicals are harmful to human health—and children’s developing minds and bodies are particularly vulnerable. It is also increasingly clear that alternative, less chemical-intensive approaches to farming are not only viable, but would strengthen the resilience of agricultural production.”
PAN says it’s time regulators establish “an ambitious national use reduction goal for agricultural pesticides.” The reduction goal should prioritize action against pesticides most harmful to children, establishing pesticide-free buffer zones around schools, daycares, and other “sensitive sites” near farms where chemicals are used.
Finally, we need to invest in healthy, innovative farming, says PAN.
“We need to provide significant and meaningful support, incentives and recognition for farmers stepping off the pesticide treadmill. National and state programs must prioritize investment in healthy, sustainable and resilient agricultural production.”
Eliminating regulatory influence from companies like Monsanto
Stripping away the influence multinational food corporations have on public policy is another important step, says PAN.
“These multinational entities wield tremendous control over how we grow our food, from setting research agendas in public institutions to production and sale of farm inputs including seeds, fertilizers and pest management products.
“Not surprisingly, these same corporations also hold significant sway in the policy arena, investing millions of dollars every year to influence voters and policymakers at the local, state and federal levels.
“Their aim is to protect the market for pesticides, seeds and other agrichemicals. As public concern about the health impacts of pesticide products has grown in recent years, the pesticide industry has also invested heavily in public relations campaigns to influence the national conversation about food and farming,” the report concludes.
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