As pesticides continue to be used on crops, in landscaping and in consumer products, many Americans are becoming more concerned about the effect of such chemicals on our children.
Because children’s brains and nervous systems are at early and critical stages of development, they are more susceptible to these harmful chemicals. And while much depends on the amount and frequency of exposure, contact with pesticides and their residue has been linked with cancer, organ damage, asthma, learning disabilities and behavioral changes in children, according to the EPA.
If you’re a concerned parent seeking to minimize your child’s contact with such pesticides, consider the following suggestions:
* Eat organically. When possible, serve your kids certified organic foods, which are produced without the use of toxic persistent pesticides, antibiotics or chemical fertilizers and preservatives. Studies have linked organic foods with heart health, immune system support and highly impactful antioxidants. That helps explain why 68 percent of U.S. parents in a recent study by Stonyfield Organic said they're more likely to buy a product if it's labeled organic.
* Scrub and/or peel your produce. If switching entirely to organic foods is out of reach, focus on removing any pesticide residue from your store-bought fruits and veggies. Forgo commercial produce cleansers and simply rub the foods under your tap using your fingers or a stiff brush. According to federal data compiled by the Environmental Working Group, the produce most likely to retain pesticides (a group known as the “Dirty Dozen”) includes strawberries, spinach, nectarines, apples, grapes, peaches, cherries, pears, tomatoes, celery, potatoes, sweet bell peppers and hot peppers; you can further reduce pesticide risk by peeling these before consumption. The “Clean 15” group apt to retain the least residue includes avocados, sweet corn, pineapple, cabbages, onions, frozen sweet peas, papayas, asparagus, mangoes, eggplants, honeydew melons, kiwis, cantaloupes, cauliflower and broccoli.
* Monitor pesticide use where your children play. While the Stonyfield survey found only 23 percent of American parents are concerned about chemical use in sports fields, playgrounds and parks, most of those areas are treated with chemical cocktails of herbicides, insecticides and fungicides. That’s why Stonyfield, the country's leading organic yogurt maker, has launched a three-year, half-million-dollar initiative to work with 35 communities across the country in converting outdoor playing fields and parks to organic. The company will provide tools and resources to make change locally when launching the program later this year. "This effort goes far beyond the products we make and sell," notes Stonyfield co-founder Gary Hirshberg. "We need to be just as concerned with what goes on kids' bodies as what goes in them."
* Seek out organic health and beauty products. Conventional beauty products often include petroleum-based ingredients and rely on various chemicals for their production process. Upon application, those chemicals can be absorbed into your child's bloodstream through his skin, hair or fingernails, causing adverse reactions, according to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. Fortunately, several companies now offer organic versions of everyday items such as soap, shampoo, lotion and lip balm.
* Check up on your drinking water. The EPA regularly tests and regulates public drinking water sources, but not private wells. The government agency recommends you test your private well annually, using a state-certified lab that can monitor total coliform bacteria, nitrates, total dissolved solids and pH levels and any suspected contaminants that may have resulted from area construction, industrial activity or flooding. If you suspect or confirm contamination, consider buying your family bottled water until the problem is resolved.
When it comes to shielding children from potentially harmful pesticides, awareness can be half the battle. Educate yourself on what you can do to protect our kids.