Children's environmental health

Childhood pesticide poisoning: Information for advocacy and action

Prepared for FAO, UNEP and WHO by Dr Lynn Goldman, Professor, Environmental Health Sciences, John Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health, USA


childhood pesticide poisoning

Pesticide poisoning is a serious health problem that disproportionately affects infants and children. Pesticides are designed to kill, reduce or repel insects, weeds, rodents, fungi, and other organisms that can threaten public health and national economies. However, when improperly used or stored, these chemical agents can also harm humans. Key risks are cancer, birth defects, and damage to the nervous system and the functioning of the endocrine system.

People can be exposed to excessive pesticide levels while working; via food, soil, water or air; or by directly ingesting pesticide products. Pesticides are known to cause millions of acute poisoning cases per year, of which at least one million require hospitalization. The number of children involved in such incidents is unknown but, based on the experience of many countries, likely to be large. Between one and three agricultural workers per every 100 worldwide suffer from acute pesticide poisoning [1, 2], and adolescents are often the victims.[3, 4] The contribution of pesticides to chronic diseases, on the other hand, is unknown.

Tackling the risks to children of pesticide exposure and poisoning requires comprehensive strategies. These strategies should be designed for the local level and supported nationally, regionally and internationally. They should include research activities on how to develop effective economic and legal instruments. In addition, they should ensure that the public is informed, health conditions are monitored and, where necessary, treatment programs are established.

The need for such strategies is confirmed by a number of international agreements that call for actions to protect children and the environment from the negative effects of human activities. These include the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child as well as Agenda 21, which was adopted by the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development.

The purpose of this document is to provide you with information for advocacy and action directed at reducing pesticide poisoning and addressing its effects on children and women