Children, and particularly infants, are at a higher risk of harm due to certain environmental factors. Exposure to such factors can have a negative impact on health, particularly the respiratory system, the dermatological health, the reproductive health, and congenital abnormalities. Such factors can also be carcinogenic i.e., cancer causing.1 One such environmental factor is pesticide. Pesticides are an important category of contaminants present commonly in the environment, both indoors or outdoors. They are designed to kill or repel insects, rodents, and weeds etc, but if improperly used or even stored in a wrong place, it can prove dangerous to humans, especially infants/ children.
Generally, children of economically backward classes are more prone to get worst hit by environmental factors like pesticides. Their communities and homes are in worst condition and parents often work in a kind of place that expose them to pesticides, and they often end up getting it at home.1
Infants may be sensitive to health risks posed by pesticides for varying reasons:
- An infant’s internal organs are still in development and maturation stage; pesticides can interfere at any stage of development. Pesticides may cause harm to an infant’s body by blocking the absorption of food nutrients that are necessary for human growth.
- Infants have a habit of putting objects in their mouth while they are playing at home or in lawns. This increases their exposure to pesticides - which are used in gardening and/or at home.
- Infants usually eat and drink more than adults, in relation to their body weight. This also increases their exposure to pesticides.
- If the child’s digestive system is not developed yet, the body may not remove the pesticide fully and it may continue to harm the body.
- As the human body is developing, there are certain phases during development when exposure to a pesticide can permanently change the way the biological system functions. Birth defects or damage to the nervous system can be caused by exposure to pesticides. Importantly, an infant is at a greater risk of acquiring cancer at a later stage in life.
What precautions can one take to avoid exposure of infants to pesticides?
- Parents can help their children stay away from pesticides. For this, parents must educate themselves. Infants or children usually have fruits which are sprayed with pesticides. These should be thoroughly washed in running water before eating.
- Try and avoid unsafe pesticides inside and outside the house. Even when used according to instructions, they still pose a harm to human health. There is no pesticide which can be fully safe on humans.
- Educate the caregivers of infants about harmful effects of pesticides and enquire the schools and daycare facilities about their pest management practices.
- Take off your shoes outside the door to prevent pesticides getting indoors
- Introduction. Children’s Environmental Health Project. Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment. Available at:
- Pesticides. World Health Organisation. 2008; 1-62. Available at:
- Pesticides and Food: Why Children May be Especially Sensitive to Pesticides. US Environmental Protection Agency. Available at:
- Step 1: Avoid pesticides. Healthy Child Healthy World. Available at:
- Davis, A., (May 31, 2007) "Home Environmental Health Risks." OJIN: The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing. Vol. 12 No. 2 Manuscript 4. Available at: