(NaturalNews) The adverse health effects associated with human exposure to pesticides have been well known for decades. Author Rachel Carson helped create public awareness in the early 1960s through her book entitled Silent Spring. In it, she documented the detrimental effects pesticides have on both the environment and humans. Carson also described the power held by chemical companies and the disinformation they provide to the public, including lying about the effects pesticides have on humans.
Her work triggered a movement that brought about change in nation-wide pesticide policies, including the ban of DDT for agricultural use. Her conservation efforts eventually led to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1970. However, despite the ban on DDT, which was the first widely used synthetic insecticide, equally dangerous pesticides are still being used today, and in even greater amounts.
If chemicals like DDT (which the EPA itself says has "adverse environmental effects" on both humans and wildlife) are so dangerous, then why are tens of thousands of schoolchildren being exposed to equally dangerous chemicals?
On April 30, The California Reportdisclosed the first comprehensive survey identifying pesticide use near thousands of California schools. The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) found that 2,500 schools in 15 different counties were located within one-quarter of a mile of an area with heavy pesticide use.
While this particular survey did not study whether children were actually exposed, or the health effects related to pesticide exposure, other studies have, and the findings are frightening, to say the least.
In May 2010, scientists from the University of Montreal and Harvard University found that pesticide exposure through residue left on fruits and vegetables can double a child's risk for developing attention deficient hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a medical condition that causes impulsive behavior, difficulty paying attention and hyperactivity.
The study analyzed pesticide levels in the urine of 1,100 children and found that those with the highest levels of dialkyl phosphates, the breakdown products of organophosphate pesticides, displayed the most symptoms for ADHD.
Organophosphates cause damage to the nerve connections in the brain, which is partly why it's used on crops to kill insects. The chemical disrupts "a specific neurotransmitter, acetylcholinesterase, a defect that has been implicated in children diagnosed with ADHD."
Another study conducted by the Public Health Institute, the California Dept. of Health Services and the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, discovered that even minimal exposure to pesticides can increase a child's risk by sixfold for autism spectrum disorders (ASD) for children of women exposed to organochlorine pesticides.
Dr. Asa Bradman said the survey studying California schools located near areas of heavy pesticide use was meant to spark a movement aimed at decreasing children's exposure to harmful chemicals.
"We're trying to understand how pesticides are used, what their potential toxicity is, identify communities where additional research is warranted, and then potentially take steps to reduce those exposures," Bradman said.
Data from the study showed that Latino children are 91 percent more likely than white children to attend schools near fields with heavy pesticide use.
One Spanish-speaking resident living near the Central Valley community of Plainview, California, said, "Our school is right near a grape vineyard."
Concerned, she said, "When kids come out of school sometimes, the first thing they smell is pesticides. I want to reach into the hearts of farmers so they advise schools when they are going to spray -- and are careful with our children."
Pesticides have also been linked to many types of cancer including leukemia, non-Hodgkins lymphoma and brain, bone, breast, ovarian, prostate, testicular and liver cancers. In 2009, the Agency of Toxic Substances and Disease Registry found that children living in homes where pesticides are used are twice as likely to develop brain cancer compared to those residing where pesticides aren't present.
Overall, it's extremely apparent how dangerous chemical exposure is for adults, and particularly children under the age of 12, as their bodies haven't yet fully developed. Despite this awareness, a pesticide safety bill failed in the state senate committee last month.
The measure would have required farmers to notify residents and schools in advance of crop dusting with certain chemicals.