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Pesticide traces found in kids here
By Brad Wong
Seattle Times staff reporter
In a first-of-its-kind study examining the exposure of urban and suburban
children to household pesticides, University of Washington researchers have
discovered traces of garden chemicals in the urine of dozens of Seattle-area
All but one of the 96 children tested were found to have minute amounts of
pesticide in their urine, according to researchers, who noted that "children
whose families reported pesticide use in their gardens had significantly
higher (chemical) concentrations than those who had gardens but did not use
The concentrations in the children were low in the parts-per-billion
and it's unlikely the exposure would produce acute symptoms, such as
headaches, vomiting, blurred vision or breathing difficulty, said Alex Lu, a
university research scientist who helped conduct the study.
But the question yet to be resolved in the scientific community
whether long-term exposure, even minimally, represents a health risk. Until
that answer is known, the researchers suggest caution when using
"What's the prudent thing to do? My approach has been: We should be
cautious, not alarmists. We should take steps that are easy to take," said
Richard Fenske, a professor of environmental-health sciences who worked on
Pesticides and children
Information about pesticides is available at King County's Web site:
www.metrokc.gov/hazwaste/house, and at the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency's Web site: www.epa.gov.
University researchers looked for any trace of organophosphate pesticides
such as diazinon and Dursban in the children. Dursban contains the active
ingredient chlorpyrifos and is also known by that name.
The pesticides are effective in killing insects by attacking their nervous
systems, and Dursban is the most widely used household pesticide made in the
United States, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
The EPA has mandated that the retail sale of Dursban and diazinon for
household purposes be restricted or eliminated, starting this year. The
agency said the four-year phase-out of the two chemicals is necessary to
protect the health of the public, especially children.
The UW study and EPA rules have also prompted King County hazardous-waste
officials to launch a public-awareness campaign aimed at promoting
organic-gardening practices, a position supported by the UW scientists.
The study, conducted in 1998, was published in the March edition of
Environmental Health Perspectives, a journal of the National Institutes of
Health. The children who participated in the study ranged in age from 2 to
5. Researchers went to two health clinics one in South King County, the
other in North King County and asked parents if they would allow their
children to be screened.
Since the early 1990s, UW researchers have been investigating the
relationship between pesticides and exposure to children. Three years ago,
the UW received a major $6.6 million grant to intensify its research
efforts. The findings from the federally funded research will be helpful to
scientists looking into how children are exposed and the vulnerability of
their still-developing nervous systems to certain chemicals.
Just last year, UW researchers released the results of a study of pesticide
exposure among 109 children in rural areas. Conducted in Chelan and Douglas
counties, the study looked at children's exposure to azinphos-methyl and
phosmet, two chemicals used to control coddling-moth damage in apple
The urine tests for that study showed more than half the preschool children
had been exposed to pesticides at higher levels than federal regulators
considered safe. Unlike the Seattle-area study, the rural children were most
likely exposed to the chemicals during spraying season and from their
parents, who unknowingly carried residue into their homes on clothing.
One reason the Seattle study showed a far greater percentage of children
with trace amounts of pesticide in their urine is because the testing
methodologies are more advanced than those of earlier studies, according to
Meanwhile, King County hazardous-waste officials have been visiting area
hardware stores, talking to consumers about organic alternatives to using
chemicals, especially for lawn care.
Their efforts will continue tomorrow and the next Saturday at selected
Seattle-area McLendon and Home Depot hardware stores.
Annette Frahm, a county waste official who is leading the campaign, said
some area residents routinely use Dursban and diazinon pesticides to kill
the pesky crane fly, which resembles an elongated mosquito.
The fly's larvae live in and eat lawns, leaving noticeable brown spots and
prompting some people to purchase pesticides. But through proper lawn-care
techniques, insect damage can be controlled organically, Frahm said.
But not everyone subscribes to the notion that the pesticides automatically
are bad news.
Ed Walter, president of Washington Tree Service, questioned whether minute
amounts of pesticide in children really pose a serious health threat.
"If you're talking about kids and low-level amounts, and these products
going to be gone in three to five years, then you're kind of beating a dead
horse," said Walter, whose company uses organic pest controls as well as
Brad Wong can be reached at 206-464-2750 or firstname.lastname@example.org.