Insectide risk for young children

Levels of a particular insectide on some US fruits and vegetables pose short-term risks to small children according to a new study by the Environmental Working Group (EWG).

The US consumer group has called on the US EPA to ban the use of methyl parathion. The ban is needed, say the EWG, because hundreds of thousands of young children are exceeding government-established safety limits for the pesticide every day, mostly through consumption of apples and peaches.

EWG recommended that until methyl parathion is banned, parents shift from apples and peaches to other fresh fruits for children under the age of five.

The EWG analysis follows concerns raised about pesticides in foods by Consumer Reports magazine. On Tuesday March 3 1999, EWG ran a full-page ad in The New York Times warning of pesticide risks in children’s foods, and urging consumers to once again make their voices heard.

EWG’s analysis of more than 110,000 government-tested food samples and detailed government data on children’s food consumption found that multiple pesticides known or suspected to cause brain and nervous system damage, cancer, or hormone interference are common in foods many children consume.

According to EWG’s report, ‘How ‘Bout Them Apples?’:

  • More than a quarter million American children ages one through five ingest a combination of 20 different pesticides every day. More than 1 million young children eat at least 15 pesticides on a given day. Overall, 20 million American children five and under eat an average of eight pesticides every day.
  • Every day, 610,000 children ages one through five – equal to all the kids of that age in the states of Washington and Oregon combined – consume a dose of neurotoxic organophosphate insecticides (OPs) that the government deems unsafe. More than half of these unsafe exposures are from one pesticide, methyl parathion.
  • Toddlers’ eating habits are different from adults – another factor driving pesticide risks. Taking their weight into account, kids 1 to 5 consume 30 times more apple juice, 21 times more grape juice, 7 times more orange juice than the average person in the population. Four million American 1-to-5-year-olds (20 percent) drink apple juice every day.
  • The average apple has four pesticides after it is washed and cored. Some have as many as ten. More than half the children exposed to an unsafe dose of OP insecticides get it from apples, apple sauce or apple juice. Some apples are so toxic that just one bite can deliver an unsafe dose of OPs to a child under five.

Government tests show that red raspberries, strawberries, apples, and peaches grown in the US and cantaloupe from Mexico are the foods most contaminated with pesticides. The fruits least contaminated with pesticides were watermelon, bananas, kiwi, pineapple, and domestically grown cantaloupe. The least contaminated vegetables include corn, onions and peas.

Ken Cook, president of EWG and an author of the report, dismissed food industry claims that banning or reducing the use of dangerous pesticides is impossible and would be costly to consumers. He cited an aggressive program by one US baby food company to eliminate pesticides from its product line.

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