From birth through the teen years, all the major body systems go through “growth spurts.” During these critical periods of growth, exposure to toxic chemicals like pesticides can result in serious problems with health and development.
Migrant and seasonal farmworker children are daily exposed to dangerous chemicals in a number of ways. Some may experience dermal contact with pesticide residues on the plants, or they may even be sprayed directly from aerial applications. They may also be exposed by eating the fruits or vegetables right off the vine as they work and play in the fields. And, even if they don’t work in the fields, they may be exposed when their parents return from work with residues on their clothing, shoes, work tools, lunch coolers, etc. The residues transfer to the children directly when they hug their parents or play with their tools or clothing. Residues can also be transferred to the floor, furniture, and even onto the children’s toys. It is impossible for farmworker children to escape this environmental exposure.
Exposure to pesticides in children and adults can cause a wide range of health effects. However, it is important to recognize that children are not mini adults and that their reproductive and immune systems are still developing. Many pesticides are designed to act as cholinesterase inhibitors. The enzyme is critical to proper functioning and development of the central nervous system. This means that the pesticide is designed to interrupt normal reproductive development. Some health risks migrant and seasonal children might experience may include:
- Brain cancer
- Birth defects
- Learning disabilities
- Liver damage
In addition, pesticides can trigger asthma attacks and aggravate allergies and other respiratory problems, as well as increase the risk of infertility, still birth, mental and emotional problems, certain types of cancer, and birth defects. Children in areas where pesticide use is common have been shown to suffer from neurological problems such as poor hand-eye coordination, lack of stamina, and difficulty concentrating, compared to children from areas where pesticides are not used.
AFOP Health & Safety Programs believes that prevention is key, and it recognizes the importance of educating children on how to protect themselves from pesticides to avoid immediate and future health hazards. That is why AFOP created an interactive and bilingual curriculum called José Aprende Sobre los Pesticidas (Jose Learns About Pesticides), which is about a boy called “José” whose family works in the fields. Among many lessons, José is taught how to dress in the fields, as well as the importance of washing his hands before eating or going to the bathroom. This curriculum is implemented in many states to children who are between the ages of 4-10 years old.
With this curriculum we hope to provide every migrant and seasonal farmworker child the necessary tools to stay as safe and healthy as possible.