Evidence of Harm

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Pesticides Affect Child Development

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Children have unique vulnerabilities that can lead to significantly greater amounts of pesticide exposure, and increasingly detrimental effects from these exposures, compared to adults. With more frequent hand-to-mouth behavior, children are much more likely to ingest pesticide residues from areas they come in contact with. Their decreased physical size makes even small amounts of pesticide ingestion detrimental to their health, especially during early developmental stages. 1

And of course, children play! Whether it’s recess, sports practice, a trip to the park, or simply playing outside at home, children come in contact with a lot of turf. The chemicals that are sprayed on that turf matter because scientific evidence shows it has an impact on their health. See the body of evidence below.

Good Neighbor Iowa recognizes there are situations where pesticides may be necessary in certain landscapes to protect child health, such as invasive species control or removing poison ivy. However, given the body of evidence, pesticide usage on common turf for cosmetic purposes is unjustifiable.

“Prenatal, household and occupational exposures (maternal and paternal) appear to be the largest risks. …Children’s exposure to pesticides should be limited as much as possible.”

American Academy of Pediatrics

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Pesticide Exposure in Children
by American Academy of Pediatrics

This technical report offers a review of numerous studies linking prenatal and childhood cancers, chronic illnesses, neurodevelopmental delays, and behavioral disorders to pesticide exposure. Studies link early-life exposures, particularly with DDT, to adverse effects on neurodevelopment and behavior. “Prenatal, household, and occupational exposures (maternal and paternal) appear to be the largest risks. . . Children’s exposure to pesticides should be limited as much as possible”.

Building on the findings of A Generation in Jeopardy, this report summarizes the linkage between pesticide exposure and poorer health outcomes in children. For children, “Quickly growing bodies take in more of everything; they eat, breathe, and drink more, pound for pound, than adults. As physiological systems undergo rapid changes from the womb through adolescence, interference from pesticides. . .–even at very low levels– can derail the process in ways that lead to significant health harms.”

A Generation in Jeopardy
by Pesticide Action Network, 2012

This report overviews dozens of recent scientific studies on the impacts of pesticides on children’s health. Their analysis reveals: compelling evidence linking pesticide exposure with harms to the structure and functioning of the brain and nervous systems, pesticide exposure contributes to increased rates of cancer, birth defects, early puberty, asthma, obesity, and even diabetes.

Slide Protect your Pets

Dogs are highly susceptible to environmental toxins and can act as "canaries in the coal mine" for human health hazards 16 17. Research shows that exposure to herbicide-treated turf is associated with significantly higher bladder cancer risk in dogs.18 A 2013 study found elevated levels of 2,4-D and MCPP (common lawn herbicides) in the urine of dogs in both treated and untreated lawns.18 This suggests that intentional application and pesticide drift from neighbor applications contribute to pet exposure. Furthermore, track-in by an active dog is one of the most significant factors for pesticide intrusion (transport) indoors. 11

Slide Urban Streams at Risk

The warnings on containers of common lawn weed killers often say: “This product is toxic to fish and aquatic organisms.” And yet, some of the herbicides applied to turf do end up in local streams. Monitoring studies have shown that pesticides used on lawns are detected in urban streams, and often in higher concentration than in streams draining from agricultural regions. 14

After the province Ontario, Canada, banned cosmetic lawn pesticides, a study found that weed killer concentrations in urban streams were significantly reduced. 15

Slide Pollinators and Biodiversity

Bees are a keystone pollinator species. However, urban bee populations may be undermined due to pesticide exposure. Pesticides, including both insecticides and herbicides, aim to diminish biodiversity -- the lifeline of pollinators. It is critical that we safeguard their habitat by maintaining urban biodiversity and providing spaces in which plants essential to pollinators’ health can grow and flourish. When lawns are managed without pesticides, naturally occurring flowers and plants can serve as a natural wildlife habitat for urban bee species. 19

Explore More Evidence

Cancer Health Effects of Pesticides: Systematic Review

by Ontario College of Family Physicians

A comprehensive literature review that concludes, “Studies looking at pesticide use and cancer have shown a positive relationship between exposure to pesticides and the development of some cancers, particularly in children.” This report advises “…decreasing pesticide use for cosmetic (non-commercial) purposes where children might be exposed, and on the job.”

Residential Pesticides and Childhood Leukemia; A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

Environmental Health Perspect | 2007

This meta analysis of 15 studies on residential pesticide use and childhood leukemia found an association with exposure during pregnancy. Links between pesticides and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, brain, and kidney cancers also exist.

Neurodevelopmental Effects in Children Associated with Exposure to Organophosphate Pesticides: A Systematic Review

by Munoz-Quezada, M. et al.

Many pesticides exhibit neurotoxic effects in children. This 2013 systematic review found a positive correlation between pesticide exposure and negative neurobehavioral outcomes in 26 out of 27 evaluated studies.

National Institute of Health | 2013

Organophosphate Exposure During Pregnancy and Child Development: Recommendations for Essential Policy Reforms

by Hertz-Picciotto, I., Sass, J.B., Engel, S., Bennett, D.H., Bradman, A., Eskenazi, B., Laphear, B., Whyatt, R.

This 2018 report outlines urgent pesticide policy reforms describing compelling evidence that very low levels of pre- and neonatal exposure put children at risk of neurodevelopmental harms.

PLOS Medicine | 2018

Pesticide Exposure and Child Neurodevelopment: Summary and Implications

by Liu, Jianghong and Schelar, Erin

This research suggests even low levels of pesticide exposure in children has neurodevelopmental effects, including impacts on neonatal reflexes, psychomotor, and mental developments and ADHD. Greater education at all levels and more common use of integrated pest management are just two of the implication strategies called for by the authors.

Workplace Health and Safety | 2012

Environmental Chemical Exposures and Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Review of the Epidemiological Evidence

by Kalkbrenner, A., Schmidt, R., and Penlesky, A.

Pesticides are able to be passed through the placenta and blood-brain barrier to infants while they are in the womb, resulting in pesticide exposure during the most critical stages of child development. Certain types of pesticides are believed to have impacts on the likelihood of autism diagnosis. Pesticides interfere with neurodevelopment through their endocrine-disrupting properties.

Children’s Low-Level Pesticide Exposure and Associations with Autism and ADHD: A Review

by Roberts, J.R., Dawley E.H., Reigart, J.R.

This review highlights correlations between maternal pesticide exposure in utero and neurocognitive disorders, including ADHD, ADD, ASD, and learning disabilities.

Pediatric Research | 2019

Glyphosate-Based Herbicides are Toxic and Endocrine Disruptors in Human Cell Lines

by Gasnier, C., et al.

Some pesticides have active ingredients that have been classified as endocrine disruptors. Many “other” ingredients- ingredients that remain undisclosed- have also been shown to be endocrine disruptors. 

National Library of Medicine | 2009

Co-Formulants in Glyphosate-Based Herbicides Disrupt Aromatase Activity in Human Cells Below Toxic Levels

by Defarge, N., et al.

The pesticide industry is only mandated to share the “active ingredients” in their products. However, undisclosed “mystery” ingredients and compounds in pesticides have been found to be endocrine disruptors as well, if not more so than the active ingredients themselves. 

International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health | 2016

Childhood Cancer: Cross-Sector Strategies for Prevention

by Childhood Cancer Prevention Initiative

Cancer is the leading cause of death by disease among children in the U.S. This report calls on the need for increased preventative measures to reduce children’s exposure to pesticides and toxic chemicals. Important risk factors for cancer among children include toxic chemicals in their homes and learning and play environments.

Distributions of 2,4-D in Air and on Surfaces Inside Residences after Lawn Applications: Comparing Exposure Estimates from Various Media for Young Children

by Nishioka, M., et al.

Pesticides oftentimes make their way inside homes. This study discovered indoor residues of 2, 4-D (a common lawn herbicide) were detected in air quality and on all surfaces throughout all study homes. 

Environmental Health Perspectives | 2001


  1. Roberts, James R., and Catherine J. Karr. “Pesticide exposure in children.” Pediatrics 130.6 (2012): e1765-e1788.
  2. Bassil, K. L., et al. “Cancer health effects of pesticides: systematic review.” Canadian Family Physician 53.10 (2007): 1704-1711.
  3. Turner, Michelle C., Donald T. Wigle, and Daniel Krewski. “Residential pesticides and childhood leukemia: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” Ciencia & Saude Coletiva 16.3 (2011): 1915-1931.
  4. Munoz-Quezada, M., et al. “Neurodevelopmental effects in children associated with exposure to organophosphate pesticides: A systematic review.” Neurotoxicology 39 (2013): 158-168
  5. Hertz-Picciotto, I., Sass, J.B., Engel, S., Bennett, D.H., Bradman, A., Eskenazi, B., Laphear, B., Whyatt, R. “Organophosphate Exposures During Pregnancy and Child Neurodevelopment: Recommendations for Essential Policy Reforms.” Plos Medicine. 2018
  6. Liu, Jianghong and Schelar, Erin. “Pesticide Exposure and Child Neurodevelopment: Summary and Implications.” Workplace Health and Safety 60.5 (2012): 235-242.
  7. Kalkbrenner, A., Schmidt, R., and Penlesky, A. “Environmental Chemical Exposure and Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Review of the Epidemiological Evidence.” Curr Probl Pediatr Adolesc Health Care 44.10 (2014): 277-318.
  8. Roberts, J.R., Dawley E.H., Reigart, J.R. “Children’s Low-Level Pesticide Exposure and Associations with Autism and ADHD: a Review.” Pediatric Research. 85 (2019): 234-241.
  9. Gasnier, C., et al. “Glyphosate-Based Herbicides are Toxic and Endocrine Disruptors in Human Cell Lines.” Toxicology 262.3 (2009): 184-191.
  10. Defarge, N., et al. “Co-Formulants in Glyphosate-Based Herbicides Disrupt Aromatase Activity in Human Cells Below Toxic Levels.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 13.3 (2016): 264.
  11. Nishioka, M., et al. “Distributions of 2,4-D in Air and on Surfaces inside Residences after Lawn Applications: Comparing Exposure Estimates from Various Media for Young Children.” Environmental Health Perspectives,109.11 (2001): 1185-1191.
  12. Pesticide Action Network North America. “A Generation in Jeopardy.” 2013.
  13. Pesticide Action Network North America. “Kids on the Frontline.” 2016.
  14. Hoffman, Ryan S., Paul D. Capel, and Steven J. Larson. “Comparison of pesticides in eight US urban streams.” Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry 19.9 (2000): 2249-2258.
  15. Todd, Aaron and J. Struger. “Changes in Acid Herbicide Concentrations in Urban Streams after a Cosmetic Pesticides Ban.” Challenges, 2014, 5, 138-151.
  16. Reif, J. “Animals Sentinels for Environmental and Public Health.” Public Health Reports, 126.1 (2011): 50-57.    
  17. Takashima-Uebeloer, B., et al. “Household Chemical Exposures and the Risk of Canine Malignant Lymphoma, a Model for Human Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.” Environmental Res, 112 (2012): 171-176.
  18. Knapp, D., et al. “Detection of Herbicides in the Urine of Pet Dogs Following Home Lawn Chemical Application.” Science of the Total Environment, 456 (2013): 34-41.
  19. Lerman, S.B., Milam, J. “Bee Fauna and Floral Abundance Within Lawn-Dominated Suburban Yards in Springfield, MA.” Annals of the Entomological Society of America. 109.5 (2016): 713-723.

Prepared by Audrey Tran Lam, MPH, Program Manager, Center for Energy & Environmental Education, University of Northern Iowa.