When talking about limiting kids’ contact with pesticides, I’ve been accused of sounding like a broken record. But the reason behind my rant is so important: Pesticide exposure has been linked to asthma, allergies, autism and even cancer—rates of which have risen about 30% in 30 years and now kill more kids than asthma, diabetes, AIDS, cystic fibrosis and birth defects combined.
Many people don’t know that most of our children’s pesticide exposure comes from the foods that they eat—but just one day of eating differently can remove most pesticides from their bodies completely.
And many more don’t realize that household exposure to pesticides—from pest eradication products and food—is now shown to have the same negative effects on pregnancy as cigarette smoking: lower birth weight and earlier labor.
Unfortunately, just as doctors 50 years ago didn’t fault pregnant moms for smoking, today they don’t spend a lot of time talking with patients about pesticide exposure. I hope that as we all become more aware of the stakes, that too will change.
Here’s what the American Academy of Pediatrics had to say on the subject: “Epidemiologic evidence demonstrates associations between early life exposure to pesticides and pediatric cancers, decreased cognitive function, and behavioral problems. Recognizing and reducing problematic exposures will require attention to current inadequacies in medical training, public health tracking, and regulatory action on pesticides.”
With that in mind, here are some quick and easy ways to avoid pesticides in the home:
1. According to the Environmental Working Group, you can reduce your family’s pesticide exposure by 80 percent, just by avoiding (or choosing organic) the following “dirty dozen” foods: apples, bell peppers, celery, peaches, nectarines, blueberries, grapes, strawberries, lettuce, cucumbers, potatoes and spinach.
2. When in doubt, go for things you can peel by hand. For example, when faced with a non-organic fruit bowl, choose an orange over an apple, which can contain as many as 48 different pesticide residues.
3. Wash with soap-and-water, which the FDA says is just as effective as pesticide antibacterials like triclosan in fighting germs. Can’t get to a faucet? Look for alcohol based sanitizing products that depend on natural ingredients to keep hands clean on the go.
4. Use tried-and-true tricks like red pepper flakes for ants and soapy wine traps for fruit flies to deal with pests. Keeping your counters and cabinets crumb-free helps to deter bugs in the first place.
5. Got pets? Rather than using a pesticide-heavy collar, look for those that depend on citronella and rosemary, which repel fleas, and/or naturally derived pyrethrin (from chrysanthemums) or d-Limonene (from citrus).
6. Finally, I’m not a big believer in the idea that humans absorb pesticides from clothes—just washing before you wear solves most of that problem. But I also know that six of the seven insecticides used in cotton production are classified as hazardous by the World Health Organization, and that on a global scale, cotton accounts for 16% of the world’s insecticides—more than any other single crop. With that big picture in mind, choosing organic clothing—and/or limiting consumption through thrifting and swapping—just makes sense.
Follow these steps—and share them with your friends and family! If we’re all singing the same song, the record won’t sound so broken, after all.