Pesticides pose numerous dangers to human health. A lot of the chemicals we discuss in this book can have nasty health consequences, but most aren’t likely to kill you outright. Pesticides are an exception. Every year, pesticide exposures are responsible for thousands of deaths throughout the world, and there are typically a handful of children killed in the U.S. from pesticide use. A high enough dose of certain pesticides can kill a child within hours or even minutes.
All pesticides are dangerous, but some are more dangerous than others. Aluminum phosphide is particularly nasty, and is responsible for most of the child deaths we encounter in the U.S. Yet it’s sprayed all across the country, including areas near schools and homes. Organophosphates are another deadly pesticide; these products are actually chemically related to sarin nerve gas – the kind Suddam Hussein used as a weapon of mass destruction. Malathion, dichlorvos and trichlorfon are particularly nasty organophosphates.
Children poisoned by pesticides
Children can be poisoned by pesticides through accidental exposure, such as when a toddler gets into a bag of pesticide and covers themselves or ingests it. Yet many of the worst child pesticide poisonings occur when kids are simply going about their normal business in their usual environment. They encounter a toxic area where pesticides have been applied and get sick. Usually this occurs through carelessness: Too much of a pesticide is applied, the wrong kind is used; a dangerous pesticide is used too close to a home or school; or a crop duster sprays in high winds, sending a toxic cloud raining down upon a school playground.
Children injured or killed by pesticides
Serious injuries can result when children encounter toxic pesticides. One family noticed problems with their kids as soon as they moved into an apartment complex that had been heavily sprayed with the pesticides Dursban and Creal-O. The parents say their son and daughter were healthy and normal before moving in, and home videos of the kids back this up. But shortly thereafter, both kids started having convulsive seizures, and “the girl began to show severe neurological problems. She could not color between the lines in preschool. If she left the classroom to go to the bathroom, she could not find her way back. She became incontinent.” Sadly, their conditions worsened. At age 16 she was prone to uncontrollable fits, excessive drewling, and had the mental capacity of a 3-year-old. The boy, at age 12, had an IQ of 44. (Shabecoff & Shabecoff, 2010, pp. 136-37)
In another example, one boy was exposed to the potent pesticide Dursban as an infant. As Charles Lewis, former executive director of the Center for Public Integrity puts it, he “came into the world a healthy, happy baby but now is a ten-year-old paraplegic, confined to his home with twenty-four-hour nursing care, an oxygen system to breathe, and health care bills of about $30,000/month. (ibid, p. 137)
Acute exposure to pesticides can send children to the emergency room, lead to permanent lung damage or neurological disorders, and even kill them. Children die every year as a result of pesticide exposure, often with very little media attention paid to their cases. In one example, two young girls, ages 4 and 15 months, died after a pest control company sprayed fumitoxin (aluminim phosphide) too close to their home. A cloud of deadly vapors seeped into the home, poisoning the family as they went about their daily routine. Both girls fought for their life in the hospital, one in agonizing pain for several months, but sadly, both eventually died form their injuries.
In a recent case at the beginning of January 2017, a father in Texas, not understanding the dangers involved, applied aluminum phosphide underneath the family’s house. The poisonous fumes infected the house while the family slept. Of the 10 people inside, all were sickened, and four children ranging in ages from 7 to 17 died from the exposure.
These are just some of the cases that are happening all around you every year. Pesticides are designed to kill, and human beings share a similar biology with other living things. Stories like this are a tragic reminder of why parents should be diligent in protecting their family from pesticides.
- Just how toxic are pesticides? A class of dead schoolchildren provides a sobering answer. Learn how pesticide residues led to an accidental contamination that wiped out nearly every child who came into contact with them, and how this relates to your own children. This story and plenty more is available in our e-book Toxic Childhood, which you can get for just $7.99. (All proceeds from your purchase go to help kids in need.)