Link between illness and pesticide use in or near schools causes alarm

New research linking health problems to pesticides, has set the alarm bells ringing both in the U.S. and the UK.

Research by scientists, from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has highlighted a link between illness and pesticide use in or near schools.

Scientists, examined 406 cases in detail, and found that the rate of illnesses linked to pesticides and similar chemicals rose sharply between 1998 and 2002 in U.S. schools.

They found two-thirds were associated with pesticides used in schools, and a third with chemicals drifting into schools from nearby farms.

Most of the 2,593 patients affected had mild illnesses, but some were more serious, and a few severe.

Children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of pesticide exposure and it can cause rashes, sore throats, burning eyes, blisters, headaches and nausea, as well as potentially more serious long term effects.

The scientists have recommended measures to improve the use of pesticides in schools, including reducing pesticide drift and setting up pesticide spray "buffer zones" around school buildings.

The UK Pesticides Campaign called for immediate action to protect the public, and the replacement of chemicals with natural methods of pest control.

Campaigners have called for action to protect children after Georgina Downs, who heads the campaign, said children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of pesticide exposure.

She says she continues to receive reports of illnesses in children attending schools where pesticides are used, especially schools surrounded by crop fields that are repeatedly sprayed, throughout every year, with mixtures of pesticides.

She also says even though pesticides have been sprayed around schools, peoples homes, offices and other places of human habitation for decades, no adequate or appropriate risk assessments have ever been undertaken, either in the UK or internationally, regarding the long-term exposures of rural residents and communities, including children and employees attending schools where pesticides are used.

Apparently the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution is due to publish a report on "bystander" exposure to pesticides in September.

Downs has challenged in the High Court, a decision by the Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) not to introduce no-spray zones around agricultural land.

At present the application is on hold pending publication of the Royal Commission's report.

According to a Defra spokesperson, the latest study will be presented to the Advisory Committee on Pesticides and the Pesticides Safety Directorate.

She says there is already a detailed system of risk assessment employed to ensure that the particular effects of pesticides on children are properly taken into account, and also stressed there were significant differences in the way pesticides were used in the U.S. and the UK.

The research is published in the JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association.

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