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How safe are kids from pesticides?

These blues aren't associated with going to school on a Monday morning, or with the start of exams, or admissions, writes Bharati Chaturvedi.

india Updated: Sep 28, 2005 15:10 IST
EARTH WATCH | Bharati Chaturvedi
EARTH WATCH | Bharati Chaturvedi

These blues aren't associated with going to school on a Monday morning, or with the start of exams, or admissions. These are about how children may be exposed to dangerous pesticides while in schools without even knowing about it.

A recent study published in the Journal of the American Library Medical Association tells us how we inadvertently poison children. The study is actually based on an analysis of 2,593 reported pesticide poisonings in American schools in four years, from 1998 to 2002, but it is greatly instructive for India as well.

What the study found was that 31 per cent, or nearly a third of children, were poisoned from the drift of pesticides, mostly insecticides and disinfectants, applied beyond the boundaries of schools but carried into the school perimeter by the breeze. Children were the victims in 76 per cent of the cases.

One aspect of the study actually suggests that pesticide poisoning in schools could be lower than reflected in this study — due to many incidents going unreported. For one, not everyone goes to a doctor. Secondly, many symptoms are confused. Thirdly, doctors themselves aren't trained to recognize cases of pesticide poisoning.

One reason why this information is useful for children, parents and school administrators in India is the frequency with which pesticides are applied here.

Exposure before birth

Even if your child doesn't go to school or even if he isn't born yet, other chemicals still get to him. Another study, this time by the WWF-UK and Greenpeace, shows that chemicals found in perfumes, detergents, deodorants and some plastics can cross the placenta and reach the foetus. For some inexplicable reason, some health experts say this shouldn’t worry pregnant women and there is no evidence of actual harm to the foetus. I would push that reassuring statement aside in the light of knowledge that the chemicals a child receives from the moment it is conceived are vital in determining many aspects of metabolism, reproduction, learning skills and resistance to cancer.

Usually, it takes a few generations to demonstrate the impacts of chemicals, because they are slow poisons and the impact may show up only later in life. Of course, it is impossible to cut out many of these products from our lives, but it is possible to reduce exposure.

(If you feel for Planet Earth, write

First Published: Sep 28, 2005 15:10 IST