Hidden danger in childcare centers

n Parents should research pesticide use in centers

CHICAGO—Parents looking for childcare are accustomed to checking on the familiar safety issues: teacher/child ratios, staff training, safety of playground equipment and quality of toys and facilities.

Parents should also be aware of a hidden danger that can affect the health and safety of every child: exposure to pesticides. Decreasing the use of pesticides can reduce children’s risk of asthma, developmental delays and cancer—all of which are linked to pesticide exposure in early childhood. An Illinois law now requires licensed childcare facilities to use Integrated Pest Management (IPM), a proven method of pest control that emphasizes simple, inexpensive prevention practices that cause the least harm to people and the environment.

“Integrated Pest Management is a safe, simple, and effective way to keep pests out of childcare facilities,” said Rachel Rosenberg, executive Director of Safer Pest Control Project (SPCP). “We want to make sure that parents ask the right questions to protect their children from unnecessary exposure to harmful pesticides and protect children who are suffering from asthma, a disease that has become an epidemic among children, especially in Chicago.”

“Anything that can be done to prevent asthma should be a focus for the parents of daycare-age children,” said Maureen Damitz, of the American Lung Association/Metropolitan Chicago, and a parent of children with asthma. “It is a lot easier to help prevent than to treat once it has occurred.”

The law also requires childcare facilities to notify parents 48 hours before use of most pesticides and to remove objects handled by children prior to pesticide applications at the facility.

Mice and cockroaches can also contribute to asthma—so a pest free-facility is important for many reasons. “Many pest problems can be handled without pesticides by removing the pests’ essentials of survival—food, water, and shelter. If pesticides are needed to fight a pest infestation, children’s exposure can be limited by using gels and baits instead of spraying pesticides,” says Rosenberg.

Pesticides pose a greater risk to children for several reasons—children have faster metabolisms and can’t filter toxins as well due to their rapidly developing organs. Children play on the floor, where pesticide residues concentrate, and frequently put their hands and toys in their mouths.

Pesticides are a common source of childhood poisoning according to the National Center of Poison Control. Continued exposure is linked to childhood asthma, leukemia and other cancers. Studies have shown:

The use of professional pest control services at any time from one year before birth to three years after was associated with a significantly increased risk of childhood leukemia.

The use of lawn pesticides are linked with a four-fold increase in the risk of children developing cancer.

Children have a greater risk of developing asthma by age 5 after pesticide exposure within the first year of life.

Parents who discover their childcare center is using pesticides can contact SPCP for the best steps to take. ”Childcare centers are welcome to contact us.” Rosenberg said. “We promote the use of IPM, and offer handbooks, training and extensive information for childcare owners and parents on our Web site, www.spcpweb.org.”

Safer Pest Control Project is an independent, non-profit organization dedicated to reducing the health risks and environmental impacts of pesticides and promoting safer alternatives throughout Illinois.

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