Pesticide-Related Illness Relatively Common in School Employees and Students

 In Environmental Medicine

The number of incidents of pesticide-related illness in school employees and students increased from 1998 to 2002, according to a recent report in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

Pesticides and other chemicals are continually used on school property or on neighboring agricultural fields where wind may carry the toxic substances onto the school grounds.

The researchers analyzed surveillance data from 1998 to 2002 of 2,593 persons with acute pesticide-related illnesses resulting from exposure at schools. Some of the more interesting findings from the report include:

  • Most illnesses were associated with insecticides (n = 895; 35%), disinfectants (n = 830; 32%), repellents (n = 335; 13%) or herbicides (n = 279; 11%).
  • The most common insecticides implicated were pyrethrins, chlorpyrifos, malathion, diazinon and pyrethroids. Whereas the disinfectants most commonly producing illness were sodium hypochlorite and phenol compounds.
  • Of 406 cases for which detailed information on the source of pesticide exposure was available, 281 cases (69%) were associated with pesticides used at schools and 125 (31%) were associated with pesticide drift exposure from farm land.
  • The incidences of toxic events were 7.4 cases per million children and 27.3 cases per million adults. The mean age of children reporting illness was 9.5 years, and the mean age of adults was 36.1 years.
  • Slightly less than one half of study subjects reported respiratory symptoms. Gastrointestinal and neurologic symptoms were noted in approximately one third of each of the cases. Ocular manifestations occurred in 28% of the cohort, and dermatologic symptoms were present in 11% of reports.


What You Can Do

Many states have initiated Integrated Pest Management Programs (IPM) for use around schools instead of pesticides. Contact your local organic farm association. Additionally, there are many citrus and vegetable soap-based cleaners on the market that are low in toxicity such as Seventh Generation and Ecover.

Source: JAMA. 2005; 294:455-465


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