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learn about pesticides on playing fields
Skin ContactWhen kids run around playing field sports like soccer, baseball and football they’re constantly touching the grass, either directly or through handling the ball. The herbicide sprayed on that field can get absorbed directly through the skin, the body’s largest organ.
That’s bad news for everyone but children are especially vulnerable. First, they are simply closer to the ground than adults. And when they play, it’s more ‘rough and tumble’, often sliding, falling and rolling into the dirt. Children also have more permeable skin than adults and they have more skin surface area in comparison with their overall body weight, compared with a fully-grown person.
BreathingChildren can also be exposed to toxins by simply breathing. When a child breathes in air filled with herbicide-laden dust or vaporized herbicide, this inhaled dose is absorbed into the child’s blood stream almost immediately, reaching all organs soon after. Pesticides like glyphosate that stick to the soil are especially likely to be inhaled when kids, playing on treated fields, kick up dust.
Exposure to pesticides used in a playing field or on a lawn can continue long after children have stopped playing. After leaving the fields, children can track pesticide residue inside their homes and classrooms on their clothes and shoes. Learn more about ‘pesticide drift’.
Weather conditions can increase the risk of exposure--something that stated field re-entry intervals may not take into account. If it rains after spraying, for instance, there could be wet spots and pools of water around the fields. Re-entry intervals are simply not set to protect kids who just might occasionally enjoy flag football in the mud on a field sprayed earlier in the week.
Note that these re-entry intervals are set by manufacturers and the EPA, and are based on the premise that no use of a pesticide should cause “unreasonable adverse effects on man or the environment.” But here’s the problem: it takes years of systematic data collection and research to convincingly show that a particular adverse health outcome is being caused by use of a particular pesticide, or a group of pesticides. So scientists, in quantifying the adverse impacts of pesticides on childhood development and life-long health trajectories, are always playing catch up.
Our current pesticide regulatory laws and policies fail to fully explore problems before opening the door to widespread use of new pesticides. Once the door to the market is opened, the law shifts the burden of proving harm to the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Unfortunately, the EPA frequently lacks both the resources and the political will to adequately assess and regulate these chemicals. The result is that stated field re-entry intervals may be too short, and pesticides approved for use in parks and playing fields include chemicals with known negative health impacts.
Adults and other students who spend time on fields – coaches, maintenance staff, cheerleaders, parents and relatives – can also be exposed.
And all too often pesticide residue from fields finds its way into family living rooms, tracked in on children’s clothes and shoes, and by family pets. Studies have shown that pesticides last much longer inside than outdoors because they are protected from sun and rain that would naturally break them down.
One very short-term fix is to assure that signs placed at the entrances to fields that state clearly when a pesticide application was made will help. Such signage should state clearly what was applied and when people can re-enter the field.
At a minimum, communities should urge school districts to at least double—or, even better, triple--the field re-entry intervals required on product labels to reduce exposures and risks.