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Insecticide Residues in Child Care Centers

by aseligmann — last modified Jul 14, 2010 12:00 AM

About 13 million children in the United States spend some part of the day in child care. Now researchers have confirmed that child care centers are a place where children are potentially exposed to pesticides.


About 13 million children in the United States spend some part of the day in child care. Now researchers have confirmed that child care centers are a place where children are potentially exposed to pesticides.

In a study of 168 child care centers across the country, researchers looked for residues of a number of commonly used insecticides. At each center, two indoor samples were taken by wiping the floor in a high use area and by wiping a table or desk used by the children. Also, samples of soil were taken from several outdoor play areas and combined for testing.

The test results showed 3 to 4 insecticides on the floor at 31% of the child care centers, and 3 to 4 insecticides on a table or desk at 50% of the centers. Outdoors, 38% of soil from the play areas had at least one insecticide. Some samples from floors, tables and soil had up to 13 different insecticides.

The child care centers filled out questionnaires on their use of pesticides in and around their facilities. Sixty-three percent said that they used pesticides. The number of pesticide applications reported ranged from one to 107 times per year, with most saying they used pesticides from 5 to 39 times per year. Nevertheless, at least one pesticide was found in each child care center. Researchers found that answers to the questionnaires about which products had been used did not always accurately predict what chemicals were actually found on the floor.

When the researchers grouped the data by region - Northeast, South, Midwest, and West - they did not find significant differences in the levels of pesticide residues found on the floors. They did find that the South had the highest number of different pesticides detected in floor samples and the West had the lowest.

In general, the data showed low levels of two families of insecticides -- organophosphates and pyrethroids. The samples for this study were collected in 2001, and three chemicals -- chlorpyrifos, diazinon, and permethrin -- showed up most often in the floor samples. Since then, chlorpyrifos and diazinon were banned from use indoors because of health concerns -- particularly harm to the nervous system. Outdoor play areas were also contaminated with diazinon, but now diazinon-containing lawn products are more restricted than in 2001. The researchers emphasized that places such as child care centers should be routinely monitored to document changes in patterns of pesticide use.

This study was done to help the Environmental Protection Agency meet the requirements of the Food Quality Protection Act. One of the primary goals of this law was to protecting children from harmful exposure to pesticide contamination on food. The Environmental Protection Agency decides how much pesticide residue will be allowed on food, and now they must now also consider all the other ways that children can be exposed to pesticides. This was the first nationwide study to examine one of the places where many children spend time -- child care centers.

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REFERENCE: Tulve, N.S. et al. Pesticide measurements from the First National Environmental Health Survey of Child Care Centers using multi-residue GC/MS analysis method. Environmental Science and Technology. doi: 10.1021/es061021h. Published on Web 09/06/2006.

NEWS STORY: Thacker, P. 2006. Pesticides lurk in day care centers. Science News, September 6, 2006. http://www.medpagetoday.com/tbprint.cfm?tbid=2503