Pesticides and Children a Dangerous Mix

Albany, May 24, 2002 - As Memorial Day approaches, ushering in the season for outdoor activities, New York State Health Commissioner Antonia C. Novello, M.D., M.P.H., Dr.P.H., is urging New Yorkers to protect their children from being harmed by pesticides.

"Stinging and biting insects are a particular nuisance during the spring and summer months, but we need to use insecticides and other pesticides with extreme care. Pesticides are inherently toxic and the State Health Department's Pesticide Poisoning Registry has received many reports of children who were rushed to hospitals after accidentally eating or coming into contact with pesticides," Dr. Novello said.

Health Department records show that children often are exposed to dangerous pesticides at home. For example:

  • A seven-year-old girl was reported to the Pesticide Poisoning Registry by a poison control center. She was treated in an emergency room after an exposure to a flea fogger. The girl had climbed up to a high shelf in her home and retrieved the can, believing it to be air-freshener. She closed her bedroom door and sprayed the room with the product. Her mother smelled a strange odor and discovered the child struggling for breath.
  • An emergency room reported a case of a 21-month-old after his parents found him with rat poison pellets around his mouth and stuck in his teeth. The baby was observed in the hospital and then released, with the parents being told to watch for abnormal bleeding. The young family had recently moved into a new home where, unknown to the parents, a former owner had left rat pellets in cracks and crevices. There were also mothballs, which pose another potential risk, scattered around.
  • A three-year-old was admitted to the hospital after he drank from a juice bottle containing citronella oil. The original citronella container had leaked so a family member transferred the contents into a juice bottle. The young child drank from it, thinking it was juice, and became ill.
  • A poison control center contacted the Pesticide Poisoning Registry when a five-year-old girl was taken to the doctor following an exposure to a flea dip. The little girl had access to the bottle and added it to her bath water. Her mother discovered it when she came in to check on the child and saw that the bath water had changed color. The child had a rash and was taken to the doctor.
  • Another poison control center called the Pesticide Poisoning Registry when a three-year-old was taken to an emergency room. The little boy had been found in his yard spitting out colored granules. An open bag of insecticide was nearby and there were granules in and around his mouth and on his fingers. The child was treated at the hospital.
  • An eight-year-old girl was admitted to the hospital when she developed symptoms overnight. She had been playing outside with a friend during the day and had the friend sleep over. She skipped her normal bedtime bath because of the sleepover. The parents discovered residue on her arms from an insect repellent she apparently had used during the day. She put enough on for it to be still visible the next morning. Children also tend to put their fingers in their mouths, and this can increase exposure because some of the product is then eaten.

"These are disturbing accounts, especially since pesticide injuries to children can be prevented," Dr. Novello said. "Pesticides are useful to control unwanted insects, plants or rodents, but adults must take extra steps to protect children. If pesticides are kept in the home, they should be out of reach to children and in locked storage cabinets."

To prevent or reduce pesticide poisoning, the State Health Department advises:

  • Keep pesticides out of children's sight and reach;
  • Store pesticides in their original containers. Never transfer or mix pesticides into containers that may be associated with food and drink;
  • Try to prevent pest problems. If you have pests, consider non-chemical methods of control.
  • If pesticides are used, follow the label directions; and,
  • Avoid storing pesticides. Buy only what you will need to use right now.

The Health Department recommends using extra caution when applying insect repellents to children. For infants, you may wish to consult with a physician before using any repellents. In general, use only a small amount and never allow children to apply repellents themselves. Do not apply repellents to the hands of young children because this may result in accidental eye contact or ingestion. Parents should also try to reduce the need for repellents by dressing children in long sleeves and long pants tucked into socks whenever possible.

The Pesticide Poisoning Registry is a surveillance and intervention program in the New York State Department of Health. It mandates reporting by medical providers suspecting pesticide poisoning of their patients. Clinical laboratories also are required to report certain laboratory test results that may indicate pesticide poisoning. For more information on pesticides, including insect repellents, visit the State Health Department's website at, or call the Environmental Health Information Line at 1-800-458-1158.

5/24/02-54 OPA