NEW YORK -- Young children are explorers. They visit every single corner of the house, roll around on every single blade of grass in the yard and seem to put every single thing in their path into their mouths.
These are the major concerns of Care for Kids, a new campaign spearheaded by actress Jane Seymour to alert parents to the potential health risks children face from potentially dangerous pesticides. The group's mission is "to change the way we fight pests -- forever," said Edward Grindstaff, the father of three and the president of Bioganic Safety Brands, which is funding the Care for Kids group.
In conjunction with the YWCA of the City of New York, Care for Kids is distributing a free brochure to parents throughout the country about pesticide safety.
"Kids react differently (to pesticides) than adults. Kids' bodies are still growing, they crawl on the floor, they eat unknown items -- and we want to make sure they don't get sick doing it," says Daniel Swartz, executive director of the Washington-based Children's Environmental Health Network. And, he adds, there are a lot of unknowns about the long-term effects of many pesticide chemicals.
Care for Kids is paying particular attention to organophosphate pesticides that use the active ingredients chlorpyrifos, widely known under the brand name Dursban, and diazinon. Under the guidance of the Environmental Protection Agency, both are being phased out, but existing supplies still are being sold and used.
There are three "Es" of pesticide safety, according to Care for Kids: educate yourself about potential risks; evaluate your home, school and child care center; and eliminate dangerous pesticides and replace them with safer alternatives.
(Grindstaff reminds parents also to check out friends' and relatives' homes. Parents should be sure pesticides are kept in a locked cabinet at least four feet above the floor in any home where children will be spending time.)
The safest alternative is to prevent insects, weeds and other nuisances from becoming problems in the first place, Swartz says. "Pests need some way into your home to be 'pests."'
Indoor pests usually can be controlled by sealing cracks to doors and windows and by being diligent in cleaning food-preparation and eating areas and not leaving any food out, according to Swartz. Dust mites, mold and fungus thrive in humidity and carpeting, so keeping the house a little drier also might help the prevention crusade.
In the garden, use hardy plants that are appropriate for the climate and conditions. If a plant is strong, it can defend itself, he explains, so pests won't bother it or even be attracted to it.
There also are the issues of choice and manual labor, Swartz adds. Using a pesticide to get rid of dandelions on the lawn is an aesthetic choice, not a health choice. Dandelions can also be dealt with effectively by getting down in the dirt and pulling them out.
"One thing to use against bugs is your brain."
Bugs need water. If you have a problem with ants, wait at the water source armed with a vacuum, he suggests.
He acknowledges, however, prevention will not always work and pesticides may be needed. Things to investigate before choosing a pesticide include persistence, acute toxicity levels and lethal doses, Swartz says.
Persistence reflects how long the product remains active. For instance, a highly persistent pesticide will continue to kill pests -- and be more likely to get into children's bodies -- for a long period after application, he explains. A chemical that doesn't persist makes an area off-limits for only a few days and it's not necessarily less effective, Swartz adds.
Toxicity levels measure how much of the chemical is actually poisonous, and the lethal dose indicates how much of the pesticide would need to be ingested to kill, he says.
A pesticide with an LD (lethal dose) level 50 at 10 grams means ingesting 10 grams would kill 50 percent of the creatures that ate it, Swartz explains, measuring the immediate risk. If that particular pesticide was not persistent, it wouldn't be especially poisonous for kids because 10 grams is a lot of poison, he says, but many products have a much smaller lethal dosage amount.
Grindstaff thinks his Franklin, Tenn.-based company has a better alternative to traditional pesticides. Bioganic products use ingredients, mostly tree and plant oils, that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration as food additives.
"There is a small group of oils, especially when used in combination, that is effective on insects," he explains. "We've taken what has been used as a home remedy and turned it into an effective 21st-century solution that you can buy in a can by isolating the oils that are the most effective."
The oils target a portion of insects' nervous system that is unique and not found in mammals, fish or birds, according to Grindstaff.
But Grindstaff says he is not involved with Care for Kids as a way to boost business.
"Bioganic is not always the answer. I'm in it for the awareness and to limit the use of pesticides altogether. I'm a dad."
On the Net:
Care for Kids: http://www.careforkidsnow.com/
Children's Environmental Health Network: http://www.cehn.org/
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