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Arizona Department of Environmental Quality Arizona's Official Website
Arizona Children's Environmental Health Program: Pesticides


What are pesticides?

Pesticides are chemicals used to control unwanted insects, rodents, weeds, plant disease, and other pests. Pest control plays an important role in preventing disease and maintaining an abundant global food supply. Pesticides are used routinely both indoors and outdoors, in commercial and residential settings. Pesticide products include sprays, powders, baits, and traps. While insecticides, insect repellents, and weed killers are commonly recognized as pesticides, other products such as disinfectants and pet shampoos are also considered pesticides.

How can pesticides affect children's health?

Pesticides are a diverse group of chemicals and exposure can cause a variety of harmful effects. Whether there will be any effect and, if so, the type of effect, depends not only on the particular pesticide and the amount taken into the body, but also on the frequency and duration of the contact. Other factors that may play a role in determining the outcome of an exposure are the age and general health of the person exposed and whether the pesticide is ingested, inhaled, or absorbed through the skin.

Insecticides primarily affect the nervous system. Some symptoms associated with high, short-term exposures to insecticides include headaches, blurred vision, salivation, dizziness, nausea and vomiting, abdominal cramps, slow pulse, diarrhea, confusion, and weakness. Very high exposures can cause paralysis, tremors or convulsions, loss of consciousness, and death. Effects of lower but longer lasting exposures are more subtle. Pesticides may also affect other organs, such as the liver and the kidneys, or they may affect development or cause cancer.

How might children be exposed to pesticides?

While pesticide poisoning could affect workers who apply pesticides or result from accidents in the home, most people are not exposed to the high levels associated with poisoning. People may be exposed to low levels of pesticides on a daily basis as a result of regular or occasional use of pesticides. Sunlight, water, and temperature all affect how fast a pesticide degrades or breaks down into less harmful substances. While some pesticides degrade quickly, certain pesticides persist in the environment for long periods of time.

Exposure may be the result of indoor or outdoor application of pesticides to the immediate premises, such as a private or public building. If a person enters a recently treated area, exposure may occur by breathing air that contains pesticides, by eating foods on which pesticides have settled, by breathing or swallowing soil or dust particles to which pesticides have adhered, or through contact with dust or surfaces where pesticides have settled.

Exposure may also result from application at a remote site, such as an agricultural field, a water body, or an area considered a breeding ground for insects that spread disease. In order for human exposure to result from a remote application, a person must come into contact with the pesticide before it has degraded. Contact to persons remote from the site of application may occur if the pesticide enters the food supply, surface water, groundwater, or air. Pesticides enter the food supply when crops are treated with pesticides. Some persistent pesticides tend to accumulate in the fatty tissues of fish, poultry, cattle, and other food animals. Most persistent pesticides (e.g., DDT) have been banned from use in the United States; however, some continue to be used in other areas of the world.

How can I reduce my child's exposure to pesticides?

  • Reduce the need to use chemical pesticides. Prevent pests from entering a building by closing or sealing openings. Eliminate sources of food and moisture so that the environment is not conducive to pests. Use physical means to control pests, such as fly swatters, whenever possible.
  • If you use pesticide products at home or elsewhere: (1) use products such as horticultural oils and diatomaceous earth or non-broadcast products such as baits or traps; (2) read and follow all label instructions, including instructions regarding the proper purpose of the pesticide product, the location for application, the quantity to be applied, the frequency of application, the method of application, and the time-;delay prior to reentry of treated areas; and (3) remove food, dishes, toys, and other objects before treating indoors.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating them.
  • Avoid treated areas during and after treatment.
  • Remove shoes at the door so that soil and dust are not tracked into the house.
  • Ensure that pesticide products are stored in safe containers and in places where children do not have access to them.

Integrated Pest Management in Schools

As part of its ongoing Children's Environmental Health Project to reduce the health risks to Arizona children posed by exposure to environmental hazards or pollutants, ADEQ is assisting Arizona schools in developing an integrated pest management program to reduce school children's exposure to harmful pesticides.

IPM in Schools
What is IPM and why use it?
Courtesy UC Davis

Integrated pest management, or IPM, uses a combination of mechanical and biological methods to minimize the need for chemical pesticides to manage insects, rodents and other pests safely.

ADEQ has begun a pilot project, in coordination with the University of Arizona, to introduce IPM in five Phoenix area schools. The pilot project is being funded by a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which hopes to expand it into a nationwide program.

For more information on IPM and the ADEQ pilot project:

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