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Pesticides Lurk in Daycare Centers

By Paul D. Thacker
ES&T Online News
September 6, 2006


Pesticides lurk in daycare centers

The first national study to examine pesticide exposure in daycare centers finds
some mixed results.

Millions of children get exposed to pesticides while attending daycare,
concludes the first nationwide study of insecticide residues in U.S. daycare
centers. The study, published today on ES&T’s Research ASAP website (DOI:
10.1021/es061021h), found low levels of organophosphate and pyrethroid
pesticides. Although the health impacts are unclear, the results raise questions
about the risks children face from these chemicals.

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More than 13 million children attend day care in the U.S.“We found at least one
pesticide in every daycare center,” says lead author Nicolle Tulve, a research
scientist with the U.S. EPA’s National Exposure Research Laboratory. Tulve says
that the concentrations were quite low. She did not comment on whether these
concentrations might be harmful but notes that no health advisories or national
standards currently exist for such exposures.

For the study, researchers selected 168 daycare centers across the U.S. At each
site, a technician wiped samples from indoor surfaces, such as floors and
tables, and collected soil from outdoor play areas. The manager of each facility
was also questioned about cleaning and pest-management practices. Researchers
tested for 39 pesticides, and 63% of the centers reported applying up to 10
different insectides. Organophosphate and pyrethroid pesticides cropped up most
often, and three of the four centers with the most pesticides detected were in
the South, where warm weather brings out the bugs.

This study provides a teaching opportunity in terms of training childcare
workers to manage pests in the safest way possible, says Lynn Goldman, who is a
professor of applied health at Johns Hopkins University and a former EPA
official in charge of the agency’s pesticide program. “These chemicals should be
avoided around children, and if needed, bait traps, which do not leave residues
on the floors and surfaces, are preferable, as long as they are kept out of the
reach of children,” she says.

Goldman says that she was disappointed that the agency did not use the results
to characterize how much exposure to pesticides children face. “These data are
interesting but [could] be far more meaningful,” she says.

Paul Lioy, the deputy director of the Environmental and Occupational Health
Sciences Institute at Rutgers University, agrees. He says that aggregating the
total exposures could help to identify individuals with sensitivity to these chemicals.

In the past decade, more and more states have started regulating pesticides in
daycare facilities. In 2000, Massachusetts passed a law requiring all schools to
submit integrated pest-management plans to limit children’s contact with
pesticides. And New York legislators recently introduced a bill to prohibit
pesticide applications in daycare centers during business hours. Meanwhile,
California is considering a bill to require daycare owners to notify parents
when they are treating for pests.

However, Lioy also notes that pesticides are not all bad. These chemicals kill
roaches, which can cause allergies in some children. Prudence, he says, dictates
wise use of insecticides and complete pest-management plans.

 

 

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