April 23, 2014

On March 13, Californians for Pesticide Reform (CPR) and the Pesticide Action Network (PAN) organized an informational briefing on pesticides and children’s health in Sacramento. The room was packed with legislative aides and representatives of community organizations involved with efforts to reduce the use of pesticides and protect children’s health. Senator Bill Monning gave the keynote, speaking compellingly about the importance of promoting the public and environmental health of communities in California. Senator Monning has a long history defending farmworker rights, and was the Executive Director of our International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) in the early 1990s. In his opening remarks, he acknowledged the important work of IPPNW and recognized SF Bay Area PSR President Dr. Bob Gould as a longstanding colleague in the fight to eliminate nuclear weapons, a warm tribute to the work of PSR.

Dr. Irva Hertz-Picciotto, a professor of Epidemiology and Chief of the Division of Environmental and Occupational Health at UC Davis, began the briefing with mention of children as particularly susceptible to environmental harms. She said there is strong evidence of pesticides harming the brain and nervous system, and that many recent studies link exposure to pesticides, even at very low levels, with increased risk of ADHD, autism, and drops in IQ levels. She indicated that the pesticide chlorpyrifos is especially implicated in harming children’s neuro-developmental health.

Dr. Gould, who currently also serves as Director of Health Professional Outreach and Education of UC San Francisco’s Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment (PRHE), talked about how pesticide exposure is linked to adverse reproductive and developmental health outcomes that can occur throughout the life course of males and females, referencing PRHE’s Pesticides Matter white paper that can be found here.  He explained that health professional organizations are responding to the need to take timely action on the science that links pesticides and other environmental chemicals to adverse reproductive, children’s and adult health outcomes. Dr. Gould highlighted the examples of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) and American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM)’s groundbreaking joint committee opinion in October 2013 regarding the lifetime health consequences of exposure to toxic environmental agents. Dr. Gould also highlighted the 2013 California Medical Association (CMA) resolution he co-authored with the help of CPR and PAN which resolved to “Urge the office of the California Governor and California Department of Pesticide Regulation to strengthen mitigation measures for fumigants such as buffer zones to protect residents from potential health risks, especially where children, pregnant women, elderly, and other vulnerable populations live, work and play.”

Irma Medellín, the Executive Director of El Quinto Sol de America in Tulare County, talked about how the communities she serves are suffering due to exposure to pesticides. For example, exposure to chlorpyrifos, which impacts children’s learning abilities, is found in alarming quantities within members of her community. She explained how this data has been available for nearly a decade, with little concrete action taken. She urged decision makers to take action now on pesticides that harm the brain.

Kristin Schafer, Policy Director at PAN, discussed the variety of routes in which children are exposed to pesticides: through food residues, air, water, parks, playgrounds, classrooms and schools, and in homes. Ms. Schafer underscored the point that pesticide exposures are particularly worrisome for pregnant women, as the fetus is especially vulnerable within early windows of growth and development, pointing out the need to enact robust legislation to protect our future generations from harm.