“I’ve gotten pest control services in the past and each time I do it leaves a queasy feeling in my stomach,” says Denease Hager, a mom of two small children from Daytona Beach, Florida. “I just don’t feel good spreading those chemicals in and around my house, especially when I have two little kids. This year I am weighing my options to see what else is out there.”
In doing so, she just may be protecting her kids from harm. While many people use pesticides regularly, especially during the spring and summer months, they can have lasting consequences on those exposed to them.
At first, you may think you don’t have pesticides in your home. But when you take a closer look you may see that there is a good chance that you actually do have some of these chemicals lingering in and around your home—and your family.
Pesticides, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), are also referred to as fungicides, herbicides, and rodenticides. They can include such things as bug sprays, insect repellant, weed killer, rat poison, and even the flea shampoo for the family pet. They are all designed to do one thing: kill a pest.
Who’s at Risk
Because pesticides are so strong, they contain chemicals that can also be harmful to people, especially pregnant women, babies, and small children. “Infants and children are especially sensitive to health risks posed by pesticides for numerous reasons,” says Dr. Maria Kelly, a pediatric professor at the University of Florida. “Unlike adults, their internal organs are still developing and are susceptible to effects from toxins.”
Exposure to Pesticides
The NIH agrees, reporting that most pesticides can be harmful to both people and pets. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), this development process that children’s systems are still undergoing is coupled with an immune system that may provide less natural protection than that of an adult’s. They also point out that children are often at greater risks from the pesticides because they play on the floor or the lawn, where they are usually applied. Babies also put things in their mouths, which also increases their risk factor.
Exposure generally happens through one of three methods: skin contact, inhalation, and ingestion. Pesticide use is such a big problem that the EPA reports more than a billion pounds of pesticides are used each year across the country.
“Depending on the particular pesticide, certain forms have been linked to childhood cancers, learning disabilities, and even asthma,” says Dr. Kelly. “Since the effects of many of these chemicals are unknown, it is advisable to minimize exposure to pesticides as much as possible, especially for pregnant women, infants, and small children.”
Many parents may feel like it’s a catch-22. They have pests they need to get rid, yet the products are not the best thing to bring around their family. For starters, if you are going to bring them into the home or garage, always keep them properly labeled and locked up.
“Always keep them away from children, preferably in a locked cabinet in a garage, or basement,” says Dr. David Olson, a pediatrician from Traverse City, Michigan. “Always keep them in original containers. We have seen far too many of these poisons stored in common containers, such as pop bottles. Kids will sample anything in a container like this, and some of these products are so toxic that a small sip can mean major problems.”
In fact, the EPA reports that there are around two million poisoning incidents per year in America, with more than 50 percent of them involving children under the age of 6. Also, 90 percent of those calls involve poisonings that took place in the family home.
5 Tips to Keep Your Family Safe
If you have a pest problem that you will need to contend with this spring, whether it’s in the home or garden, consider the following tips for helping to keep your family safe:
- Minimize exposure. Rather than routinely use pesticides, opt to use them only if there is a real problem that can’t be dealt with through any other means. The less you expose your family to these chemicals, the better.
- Read labels. If you are applying the chemicals yourself be sure to read the labels carefully. Follow the instructions when it comes to application, exposure, and storage of any left over.
- Ask questions. For those who opt to call a pesticide company to do the work, you will need to ask lots of questions. Inquire about what they are using, what the risks are for your children, and if there are safer alternatives they can use. Many pest control companies are beginning to offer natural solutions to their customers.
- There are natural methods of getting rid of pests that are safer and usually cheaper. The NIH also recommends trying a non-chemical method of pest control first, before taking a chemical route. Natural routes to eliminating pests include screening and sealing openings that may be allowing insects to enter the home; keeping things clean inside and out, including disposing of garbage properly; and keeping landscaping de-weeded and cared for. Natural remedy solutions can be found online and natural solutions can be purchased at many health food stores.
- Research. Do your homework on the best way to rid your home of unwanted pests. Doing some searching will yield homemade remedies you can use in place of chemical solutions.
“Although generally less effective, many of these natural forms use less synthetic chemicals or other harmful deterrent,” says Dr. Kelly. “Some natural formulations include hot pepper spray, wood ash, natural oils, and even baking soda.”