06.The most vulnerable
Children the most vulnerable
The most common way people are exposed to pesticides is most likely ingestion from residues on fruit and vegetables – but exposure from household pesticide use is increasingly coming under the spotlight and may well have a greater effect, especially on the most vulnerable in the community: the very young and unborn children.
As environmental scientist Jo Immig points out in Working Together to Clear the Air, indoor air pollution is among the top five environmental risks to public health, and in particular one of the major threats to children’s health.
There are many reasons why young children are most at risk from exposure to hazardous chemicals, not just because they’re closer to the ground or because they tend to put things in their mouths. Children have a lifetime of exposure still in front of them and for some it can start long before birth, as some chemicals that can accumulate in our bodies are passed on to the next generation via the placenta or breast milk.
A baby’s skin and gastrointestinal tract is also more permeable, allowing easier absorption of chemicals in breast milk and water. And in proportion to their body weight, children take in more air, food and water – all potentially contaminated with chemical residues – than adults.
Pesticides are not the only problem
Phthalates are chemicals added to certain plastics to make them more pliable; they’re in a large range of household products ranging from tablecloths, floor tiles and furniture upholstery to rainwear, baby pants and toys. Studies have shown that phthalates can accumulate in the body and, in a pregnant or breastfeeding woman, even very small quantities can adversely affect the gender development of her offspring.
Herbicides are also risky. Glyphosate, the active chemical in Roundup, has been implicated as a potential endocrine disruptor in concentrations 100 times lower than those used in agriculture. However, it’s highly promoted for use in the garden; our quarantine laws even require imported flowers to be dipped in a glyphosate herbicide.