Girl Planting seeds

Pesticides_(2)Studies Link Low IQ To Prenatal Pesticide Exposure

Pesticide in Womb May Promote Obesity

New UCSF Study Identifies Toxic Chemicals in Pregnant



Pesticides are widely used to prevent, destroy, repel, or mitigate pests. (The term also may include substances or a mixture intended for use as a plant regulator, defoliant, or desiccant). Beyond agriculture, pesticides are used in and around schools, homes, office buildings and golf courses.

Some chemical pesticides are hazardous compounds that may be toxic or harmful to fish, wildlife, or humans. Others, such as organochlorines, are “persistent pesticides,” i.e. they do not break down chemically or break down very slowly and remain in the environment after a growing season.(1) Organophosphates are the most commonly used compounds, but organochlorines are still permitted for limited use in developing countries.(2)

Adults and children may be exposed when pesticides are sprayed and the spray drifts. Farm workers and others subject to repeated exposure are at higher risk for adverse health effects.(2) People may also be exposed through drinking water if pesticide compounds penetrate the soil and reach groundwater supplies.

Of course, children are at greater risk to exposure to harmful pesticides than adults. Traditional headlice tratments, are in fact, made from a potent pesticide. (See Headlice Treatments below.) Children of farm workers can be exposed through their parents. And pregnant women exposed to pesticides pose a risk to their unborn child and newborn.(2)


Minimizing Exposure

One of the most common ways people are exposed is through pesticide residues on fresh produce. The best way to reduce exposure is to choose organic produce whenever possible, i.e. produce grown from seeds that are not genetically modified (see below) and grown without pesticides, herbicides or fungicides. Ask your grocer to stock organic produce if you don't see it, and to stock more variety. Other fruits and vegetables should be washed thoroughly with a brush rather than just given a quick rinse. People can also select produce that is likely to contain lower levels of pesticide residue. (See "EWG Guide to Pesticide in Produce" under "Pesticides in and Around the Home" below.)


Farm Practices

Large-scale farms in the U.S. typically monitor the development of damaging pest larvae so that pesticides are not applied indiscriminantly, but only when an “economic threshold” is reached, i.e. the likely pest damage outweighs the cost of application. Growers may also use a “selective pesticide” targeted to a specific pest, rather than a “broad spectrum” pesticide that is more likely to negatively impact beneficial insects.

Pheromone traps that attract target pests by smell are one way growers are minimizing or eliminating the use of toxic pesticides. Biopesticides are are low in toxicity to humans and wildlife or completely non-toxic. They include microorganisms and naturally occurring compounds, or those essentially identical to naturally occurring compounds that are not toxic to the target pest.(3)


Genetically-Modified Crops

Crops have also been genetically modified so that plants are naturally resistant to a particular herbicide (weed killer) or are naturally repellent to certain pests so fewer chemicals are needed for control. In 2004, 85 percent of U.S. soybean acres, 76 percent of cotton acres and 45 percent of corn acres were planted to genetically engineered varieties. Despite their prevalence, there has been much controversy surrounding the long-term safety and environmental impact of genetically-modified crops.(4) Beyond Pesticides is lobbying for labeling as a means of identifying products that contain genetically engineered ingredients. The organization is seeking to educate on the potential public health and environmental consequences of this technology, and to generate support for sound ecological-based management systems.(5)


    (1) EPA Glossary of Terms 

    (2) Jaga K and Dharmani C.
    The epidemiology of pesticide exposure and cancer: A review. Rev Environ Health. 2005 Jan-Mar;20(1):15-38.

    (3) California Department of Pesticide Regulation. Summary of Pesticide Use Report Data 2004 Indexed by Chemical. January 2006.

    (4) The Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology. “Fact Sheet: Genetically Modified Crops in the United States. August 2004.

    (5) Beyond Pesticides. “Genetic Engineering.” September 2006.

Helpful Resources

Human Health

EPA – Health and Safety
This page includes more information on human health issues, risk assessment and protecting children from exposure.

Beyond Pesticides

Environmental Working Group

New Jersey Environmental Federation – Pesticide

EPA - Pesticides (search page)

Pesticides in and Around the Home

Low-Impact Pesticides (Rutgers)
This site offers an extensive list of alternative and natural pesticides.

EWG Guide to Pesticides in Produce

Pesticides in Schools

New state regulations are requiring to notify parents, in writing, before using pesticides on school property, and use less toxic alternatives.

New Jersey School IPM Model Policy and Plan
This page offers links to the New Jersey regulations that went into affect in June 2004, as well as related information.

Integrated Pest Management for Schools (NJDEP)

Integrated Pest Management Institute of North America
This site includes links to a variety of IPM publications for schools.

    Headlice Treatments
    Parents and school administrators need to be aware that most headlice treatments rely on a potent organochlorine pesticide, known as lindane, that is applied directly to the child’s scalp. Lindane is a known carcinogen in California that has been banned from use.(*) Learn about ways to minimize exposure and alternative treatments from the National Pediculosis Association
    (*) Learn more about lindane at

Alternative Pest Control

Low-Impact Pesticides (Rutgers)
This site offers an extensive list of alternative and natural pesticides.

IPM Institute of North America - Pest Specific Bibliography
This page includes an extensive bibliography on control of the following pests. Scroll down the list on the link page to find the pest of interest.

    Flies, Gnats and Midges
    Head Lice
    Microbial Pests
    Occasional Invaders: Bats, Booklice, Centipedes, Firebrats, Millipedes, Mites, Scorpions, Silverfish, Snakes, Spiders, Ticks
    Rodents: Mice, Rats
    Stinging Insects: Ants, Bees, Wasps
    Stored Product Pests: Moths, Beetles
    Wood-Damaging Pests: Carpenter Ants and Bees, Fungi, Termites, Wood-Boring Beetles

Farm Pesticides

University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension - Integrated Pest Management (IPM)

EPA Environmental Databases


EPA – Environmental Effects
This page lists other federal agencies and departments with information or responsibility related to pesticides.

Last updated 6-10-2016



close (X)