Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Preventing poisonings

It's National Poison Prevention Week, and the US EPA is touting its big message to prevent childhood pesticide poisonings: lock up your pesticides. That's the word from Assistant Administrator Jim Gulliford in a podcast out this week from EPA. Poison Control Centers report that more than 50 percent of over two million exposure incidents each year involve children under six years of age, so to combat the danger, EPA wants us to put locks on the cabinets where we keep the poisons.

What a radical message. Every week EPA reviews new studies about how low-level pesticide exposure can increase children's risks for cancer, harm neurological development, increase the risk and severity of asthma, and on and on. Amendments to the Federal Pesticide Law in 1996, in response to the groundbreaking National Research Council report "Pesticides in the Diets of Infants and Children," recognized that children are exposed to many pesticides at once through their diets, water and surroundings -- at potentially hazardous levels -- and required new restrictions on agricultural pesticide use to reduce those aggregated exposures. EPA funds dozens of programs around the US to reduce children's pesticide exposure in schools, public housing and child-care centers through Integrated Pest Management.

So when it comes down to the public message, why is EPA telling people that the way to protect kids is to keep on using pesticides -- just lock them up when you're done? How about this for a protective message: hey, you've got kids in the house, and you really ought to quit spraying pesticides altogether. No exposure, no storage problems... no risk of accidental poisoning. That's a simple, straightforward message that will actually protect children.

For every category of potential household poison that Gulliford enumerated in the podcast, there is a simple non-toxic replacement. That's what the IPM programs that EPA supports are all about -- eliminate the risk by eliminating the poison in the first place. Is there a safer way to control pests? You betcha. It's also the safer way to prevent childhood poisonings.

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