Environmental Science & Technology  [Printer-friendly version]
September 6, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: Pesticides were detected in 100% of 168
daycare centers tested in a national survey. Some states, like
Massachusetts, are starting to take action to minimize chemical
exposures to kids in daycare, but most states are not yet paying
attention. Millions of children are being exposed to chemicals that
are designed to be biologically active.]

By Paul D. Thacker

The first national study to examine pesticide exposure in daycare
centers finds some mixed results.

Millions of children get exposed to pesticides while attending
daycare, concludes the first nationwide study of insecticide
residues in U.S. daycare centers. The study, published today on ES&T's
Research ASAP website (DOI: 10.1021/es061021h), found low levels of
organophosphate and pyrethroid pesticides. Although the health impacts
are unclear, the results raise questions about the risks children face
from these chemicals.

"We found at least one pesticide in every daycare center," says lead
author Nicolle Tulve, a research scientist with the U.S. EPA's
National Exposure Research Laboratory. Tulve says that the
concentrations were quite low. She did not comment on whether these
concentrations might be harmful but notes that no health advisories or
national standards currently exist for such exposures.

For the study, researchers selected 168 daycare centers across the
U.S. At each site, a technician wiped samples from indoor surfaces,
such as floors and tables, and collected soil from outdoor play areas.
The manager of each facility was also questioned about cleaning and
pest-management practices. Researchers tested for 39 pesticides, and
63% of the centers reported applying up to 10 different insectides.
Organophosphate and pyrethroid pesticides cropped up most often, and
three of the four centers with the most pesticides detected were in
the South, where warm weather brings out the bugs.

This study provides a teaching opportunity in terms of training
childcare workers to manage pests in the safest way possible, says
Lynn Goldman, who is a professor of applied health at Johns Hopkins
University and a former EPA official in charge of the agency's
pesticide program. "These chemicals should be avoided around children,
and if needed, bait traps, which do not leave residues on the floors
and surfaces, are preferable, as long as they are kept out of the
reach of children," she says.

Goldman says that she was disappointed that the agency did not use the
results to characterize how much exposure to pesticides children face.
"These data are interesting but [could] be far more meaningful," she

Paul Lioy, the deputy director of the Environmental and Occupational
Health Sciences Institute at Rutgers University, agrees. He says that
aggregating the total exposures could help to identify individuals
with sensitivity to these chemicals.

In the past decade, more and more states have started regulating
pesticides in daycare facilities. In 2000, Massachusetts passed a law
requiring all schools to submit integrated pest-management plans to
limit children's contact with pesticides. And New York legislators
recently introduced a bill to prohibit pesticide applications in
daycare centers during business hours. Meanwhile, California is
considering a bill to require daycare owners to notify parents when
they are treating for pests.

However, Lioy also notes that pesticides are not all bad. These
chemicals kill roaches, which can cause allergies in some children.
Prudence, he says, dictates wise use of insecticides and complete
pest-management plans.