Learning disabilities, childhood cancer and asthma are on the rise in the United States. A new report out points to pesticides – with over 3 million pounds applied on farms and homes in Sacramento County each year – as a critical contributor to these health harms in children.

“Without question, the health of our children should be a local, state and federal priority. Unfortunately, it’s not a fairytale. The widespread use of hazardous pesticides, from farm to fork, is putting this generation in jeopardy,” says Goli Sabha, a mother, doctor and coordinator of the school garden at the Language Academy of Sacramento. “A comprehensive system of school gardens and healthy, organic lunches, is a good first step.”

In particular, the report points to the fact that children are sicker today than a generation ago, confronting serious health challenges from pesticides and other chemical exposures that their parents and grandparents were unlikely to face.

Californians for Pesticide Reform, in conjunction with health professionals and mothers groups, released the new report, which draws from academic and government research to chronicle the emerging threat of pesticides to children’s health. Compiled by researchers and scientists at Pesticide Action Network, A Generation in Jeopardy: How pesticides are undermining our children’s health and intelligence focuses on studies published within the past five years – a growing body of evidence that convincingly demonstrates a link between pesticide exposure and childhood health harms.

“There is a growing ‘silent epidemic’ of diseases and disorders facing our children. And we know that even in small amounts, pesticides can have a tremendous impact on developing children,” said Dr. Harry Wang, president of the Sacramento chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility and child psychiatrist. “We must take action to prevent another generation from being put in harms way.”

The report shines a light on the growing links between exposure to pesticides where children, live, learn and play and an array of impacts on the mind and body – including diminished IQ, ADHD & autism, childhood cancers and asthma. In particular, the report points to the following trends across studies:

  • The brains and nervous systems of boys are significantly more affected than girls.
  • Timing of exposure is critically important. If a child is exposed to even very small amounts of a harmful pesticide during a particular moment of development, the impacts can be severe – and often irreversible.
  • Studies link exposure to pesticides during pregnancy to increased risk of childhood leukemia and brain cancer. And children who live in intensively agricultural areas are more likely to have childhood cancer.

The report outlines a series of urgent recommendations for state and federal policymakers to better protect children’s health and intelligence.

“Children living in Sacramento Region face pesticide problems in parks, schools and agricultural fields. We can’t shop our way out of these problems – we must press our political leaders, here in our state’s capitol, to protect our children’s health and intelligence,” said Daniel Gannon, father and farmer. “We can’t afford to wait any longer.”

The report points to the need for the following reforms to reduce pesticide use:

  • Create stronger policy tools so enforcement agencies can take swift action to pull existing pesticides off the market and block new pesticides when independent studies suggest they are harmful to children.
  • Increase investment and support for innovative farmers as they transition away from pesticide use.
  • Set and track national pesticide use reduction goals, focusing first on those pesticides that studies show are harmful to children.
  • Withdraw harmful pesticide products from use in homes, daycare centers and schools.
  • Establish pesticide-free zones around schools, daycare centers and neighborhoods in agricultural areas to protect children from harmful exposures, especially pesticide drift.

The report highlights states and communities across the country where innovative policies have been put in place to protect children from pesticides where they live learn and play. For example, parents and teachers at Language Academy of Sacramento, a school located on the UC Davis Medical Center campus, have developed a pesticide-free garden that they incorporated into the lunch program and their curriculum. The school is just down the street from Sacramento High School, where Mayor Kevin Johnson and Alice Waters recently announced their new edible schoolyard project.