Pesticide poisoning is a serious health problem that disproportionately affects infants and children, three United Nations agencies say in a new report released today, urging steps to minimize youngsters' exposure to such potentially deadly chemicals.
An estimated 1 million to 5 million cases of pesticide poisonings occur each year, resulting in several thousand fatalities, including children, according to Childhood Pesticide Poisoning: Information for Advocacy and Action, published by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and World Health Organization (WHO).
Children face higher risks from pesticides than adults because they may be more susceptible or are exposed more to such chemicals over the course of their lifetime, the report says. Most of the poisonings take place in rural areas of developing countries, where safeguards typically are inadequate or lacking altogether. Although developing nations use just a quarter of the world's production of pesticides, they experience 99 per cent of the deaths due to pesticide poisoning.
Diet and poverty are two of the major sources of exposure for children, the report says. Food and water containing pesticide residues may be a source of chronic, low-level pesticide exposure; growing food on or near contaminated soils puts children at risk; and even pesticides stored incorrectly in the field or the household may contaminate food or water.
In poor families, meanwhile, children often help on family farms where pesticides are used; pesticide users, including teenagers, may lack access to protective equipment or receive no training; and in many developing countries, the marking and advertising of pesticides is often uncontrolled or illicit.
To minimize risk, the UN agencies urge reducing and eliminating possible sources of pesticide exposure to children and home and at work, keeping such chemicals out their reach, and cutting the use of agricultural pesticides through Integrated Pest Management (IPM).
Other steps to reduce the harmful effects include training health workers to recognize and manage pesticide poisoning, providing training to people on how to use pesticides safely, running educational and information campaigns in the media, and addressing all aspects of pesticide management from manufacturing until use or disposal.