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Report presents effects of pesticide exposure on children

"Kids are on the frontline in Minnesota," the Pesticide Action Network warns in a recently released report on the effects of children's exposure to pesticides.

The report, compiled by "independent scientific experts based on dozens of objective studies," finds children living or attending school near agricultural fields face some of the greatest risk of exposure to pesticides linked to cancers and impacts on the developing brain.

"Kids are more vulnerable to chemical exposure," Lex Horan of the Pesticide Action Network told a Park Rapids area audience this week. "They haven't developed the biological defense mechanisms. When kids are exposed at a critical moment of development it can have a lifelong effect."

Relative to their size, kids eat, breathe and drink much more than adults. An infant takes in about 15 times more water per pound of body weight. Up to age 12, a child inhales roughly twice as much air.

A child's liver and kidneys — the body's primary detoxifying organs — are not yet fully developed, leaving them less equipped to process and excrete harmful chemicals. Levels of enzymes that help the body process pesticides are also not yet at full strength.

As physiological systems undergo rapid changes from womb through adolescence, interference from pesticides and industrial chemicals — even at very low levels — can derail the process in ways that lead to significant health harms, the "Kids on the Frontline" states.

Horan presented an aerial map of the surrounding agricultural area, explaining people can be exposed via air — drifting or vapors, in the water and by dirt and dust at playgrounds or in homes.

The report's review of government health trend data and recent academic research found:

• Childhood health harms (from 1975 to 2012) have risen significantly. Developmental disabilities in kids ages 3-17 were up 17 percent from 1997 to 2008; ADHD (attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder) rose 33 percent in the same period.

• Autism spectrum disorder rose 123 percent at age 8 from 2002 to 2012. The rate of children diagnosed with ASD is slightly higher than the national average.

• According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, leukemia and brain tumors are the most common - and fastest rising — types of cancer among children.

These two childhood cancers have risen 40 to 50 percent since 1975. There are links between pesticide exposure and the increased risk of leukemia and brain tumors, the report states.

The overall childhood cancer rate in Minnesota is slightly above the national average, and overall incidence of leukemia and non-Hodgkin are higher.

Minnesota leukemia incidence is 16.0 per 100,000 and non-Hodgkin lymphoma 23.0 per 100,000, compared to the nationwide numbers of 13.2 and 19.2 per 100,000, respectively.

Children in agricultural communities are exposed to pesticides above and beyond the widely shared exposures from food residues and applications in schools, parks, homes and gardens, the report points out.

In some cases, these children also experience economic and social stressors that can exacerbate the health harms of agricultural chemicals.

Rural children, Horan pointed out, may face poverty and not have access to health care.

Drifts from potato fields

A Minnesota-based fact sheet reported on drifts from potato fields.

From 2006 to 2009, PAN worked with communities to collect air samples at 19 sites in northern Minnesota. The fungicide chlorothalonil, which is frequently used on potatoes in Minnesota's wet climate, was found in 217 of the 340 air samples taken.

More recently, in 2015, air monitoring samples were positive for metam sodium, a fumigant applied to potato fields prior to planting. Chlorothalonil is an EPA "probable" carcinogen while metam sodium is a carcinogen, acutely toxic and a suspended endocrine disruptor, according to the PAN report.

"We need to do more now," Horan stressed.

PAN advocates setting national and Minnesota-specific goals to reduce pesticide use.

A publicly accessible pesticide use reporting system is recommended to track and reward progress toward reduction.

Incentives, recognition and support should be made available to farmers stepping off the pesticide treadmill.

Phasing out use of pesticides most harmful to children should be a priority, the report states. And protective pesticide-free buffer zones should be established around schools, daycare centers and other sites in rural agricultural areas across Minnesota.

"These may seem like lofty goals, but they are already happening," Horan said.

'We've got a problem here'

Heidi Neuer, a registered nurse who's lived in the Park Rapids area since 1976, said she considered her upbringing to be "idyllic, until social media became part of my life.

"Living near potato fields is definitely affecting our health," she learned. She knows six people with brain tumors and is "inundated" with calls from parents of children with ADHD and autism.

"We've got a problem here that's affecting the lives of our children," Neuer said. But she said in conversations with people, "they have no idea what they're living in.

"It's time to start talking," she advocated. "A huge roar. The only way to make an impact is at the legislative level. We need to ask the tough questions. We deserve clean water, clean air and food without pesticides.

"You have a voice," Neuer reminded her audience.

"If there is to be redemption for Mother Earth we will have to get a handle on pesticides," Bob Shimek of the White Earth Land Recovery Project said.

He pointed out 21 percent — one out of five - of the children in Hubbard County has an Individualized Education Plan, receiving special education.

"It's not all due to pesticides," he pointed out. "There may be a synergistic mechanism between poverty, abuse, neglect. But I believe the low-hanging fruit is pesticides. "We won't get them to eliminate them, but there can be a meaningful reduction. And everyone will still have a job and still make money."

Spring flush

Surface water is contaminated with agrichemicals in a seasonal fashion, with large amounts of water-soluble herbicides washing into water with spring rains.

This seasonal exposure has an impact, according to PAN.

Researchers in Minnesota found that conception in the springtime led to significantly more children born with birth defects, compared to children conceived in any other season.

One study examined reproductive health outcomes from 1,532 children, including 695 farm families with parent-reported birth defects.

Their data support the hypothesis that exposure to a number of environmental agents present in the spring — like herbicides — may be associated with an increased risk of birth defects.

Reporting a pesticide drift

The Environmental Protection Agency defines a pesticide drift as the movement of pesticide dust or droplets through the air at the time of application, or soon after, to any site other than the area intended.

Pesticide drift can pose health risks to the surrounding environment, animals and people when sprays and dusts are carried by the wind and deposited on other areas.

Immediate effects may include burning skin and eyes, sore throat, nausea or vomiting, difficulty breathing, headache and dizziness.

Long-term conditions may include asthma, fatigue, depression, increased chemical sensitivity, neurological impairments, infertility, miscarriage, birth defects and some cancers, according to the Toxic Taters Coalition.

If impacted by a drift, report the incident to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture at (651) 201-6333 or (800) 422-0798 after 4 p.m.