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Keeping Pets and Kids Safe from Pesticide Exposure

04/13/2015 21:00 ● Published by Sandy Kauten

Kelly was just the right dog for the Larson family. She was a silly Pug who loved attention, and the kids loved giving it!  It was five years ago when Kelly came to live with Larsons – much to the delight of 9 year old Josh and 7 year old Carly. Wherever the kids were, Kelly was usually close by.

But it has not always been fun and smiles for Kelly and the Larson’s.  About 4 months after her 5th birthday, Kelly’s sunny disposition changed. Excessive drooling was followed by lethargy, and in just a few days’ time, her health began to deteriorate quickly. Jan Larson carefully searched the home for clues as to what could be causing Kelly to be so ill – and finally deduced that an insecticide may have been the culprit.  She took the suspected container to Kelly’s vet – who confirmed her suspicions - and instructed her on how to treat their beloved family pet.  In short time Kelly’s health returned to normal, but the experience was unnerving for the entire family. The Larson’s were very lucky– because it doesn’t always end this way.

Pesticide exposure is especially problematic for children and pets.  Children’s internal organs are still developing and maturing, their enzymatic, metabolic and immune systems may provide less protection than those of an adult. For instance, children typically consume larger quantities of food reported to have higher traces of pesticide residue, such as milk, applesauce, and some fruits.  Children are also more likely to come in contact with pesticide residue because they play on lawns where pesticides may be applied, and on the floor where residues can be tracked in.

Pesticides were the ninth most common substance reported to poison controls centers in 2008 and 45% of those pesticide reports involved children. Adverse effects of pesticide exposure can range from mild symptoms of dizziness and nausea to serious, long term neurological, developmental and reproductive disorders. If children become sick and you suspect exposure to pesticides as the cause, it is important for a treating physician to know the type of chemical used. Acute signs and symptoms are similar in several classes of pesticides, but treatment methods can vary, so be sure to offer that information if you have access to it.

Pets are also very vulnerable to toxins as they are closer to the ground, and in constant contact with areas that may harbor chemical residues.  Likewise, they have no protection on their feet, and are often licking themselves. Pets also have smaller lungs and faster metabolisms than humans, so they absorb toxins faster. Several commonly-used weed and feed pesticide products have been linked to disease in dogs and cats – many of which contain “2,4-D” (2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid – a systemic herbicide used to control broadleaf weeds), slug bait containing metaldehyde, fly bait, and insecticides containing methmyl or carofuran.

What can you do? Keep in mind, pesticides often don’t solve pest problems. Instead, change the conditions that allow pests to thrive. Try to get rid of pesky insects more naturally or seek out least-toxic products first. If you do need use pesticides, handle them with the greatest of care, and take precautions for those who share that environment. Always read the fine print. Pesticide labels contain information essential for effective, safe and legal use.

Kathy Eva is a Public Information Specialist for the City of Eugene.  For a free guide or phone app with a review of over 600 pest controls and fertilizers, go to www.growsmartgrowsafe.org. To learn more about Eugene’s clean water program, go to www.happyrivers.org. Parents interested in teaching their children more about living in a healthy environment can access free handouts and learning tools in the classroom materials section.

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