Written by: Eco-healthy Child Care®
Have you ever had ants in your kitchen, or aphids on your houseplants? Are there weeds in your garden or yard that refuse to go away? I can answer yes to these questions and I bet that you can too. However, I am cautious in how I treat these problems, as many of the chemicals that prevent or kill pests, like rodents, insects and weeds, can harm my children’s health. Like the American Academy of Pediatricians recommends, pesticides are only used as a last resort in our home.
As the National Director of the Eco-Healthy Child Care® program, I am aware of the damaging effects pesticides can have on developing children. Products that are classified as pesticides include bug spray, weed killer, insect repellants, and flea and tick collars.
Pesticides are frequently applied inside and outside of homes and child care facilities and can persist indoors for weeks on furniture, toys and other surfaces. They can linger for years in household dust.
Pesticides used outdoors have been found to make their way into child care facilities and homes.
Research indicates that pesticide levels in indoor air are often higher than those found in outdoor air. The health effects of pesticides vary depending upon the chemical class and formulation of each pesticide, the level and length of exposure, and the age of exposure, with children being more vulnerable. In general, we want to minimize children’s exposure to all pesticides. Exposure to pesticides can cause both short and long term health problems. For example, recent studies have found that exposure to a common pesticide before birth is linked to lower IQ and poorer working memory at age 7.
Think twice before buying or using any chemical pest control products. I recommend that you adopt the ‘Integrated Pest Management’ (IPM) approach. IPM is an effective and environmentally sensitive way to control pests and weeds. IPM does not prohibit pesticide use but uses the strategy of ‘least toxic methods first.’ IPM uses techniques that pose the least hazards to people, property, and the environment.
Your state university or extension program may have an IPM program with experts who can help you understand and adopt IPM. And studies have shown that IPM is both cheaper and more effective than routine pesticide application.
First determine whether the pest is a real or perceived problem. Not every living thing that doesn’t “belong” is a pest that needs to be destroyed by using toxic chemicals. For example, dandelions may be “weeds,” but these plants can be uprooted by hand -- or left alone. Some proven strategies for eliminating the root causes of pest problems, such as ants, mice and cockroaches, include:
• Clean up food and drink spills right away
• Do not leave dishes standing in the sink.
• Keep trash in a closed container and take it out frequently; don’t let trash pile up.
• Do not allow children to eat food other than in designated areas (and clean up immediately after the meal or snack)
If you must use chemical pesticides:
Child care providers should:
• Notify families and staff in advance of the pesticide use and what product(s) will be used.
• Make certain any pesticide applicator is a licensed professional. Choose a pest management professional (PMP) that practices IPM.
• Read and follow the label instructions on the pesticides.
• Ensure that pesticides are not applied when children are present. Follow label instructions for the allotted time between application and children’s exposure.
• Choose pesticides of low toxicity first (be sure products are EPA registered).
• Use of baits and traps is preferable over spraying.
• Ensure baits/traps are not accessible by children.
The Eco-Healthy Child Care® Pesticide Fact Sheet offers lots more tips and resources.
Eco-Healthy Child Care® helps early childhood learning environments to be as healthy, safe and green as possible by reducing children’s exposure to toxic chemicals.