A joint report conducted by IowaWatch and with Science in the Media, a University of Northern Iowa project, reveals that 444,559 students and teachers are at risk of pesticide exposure and poisoning in Iowa. Local high school student journalists at the Cedar Falls High School newspaper also contributed to the report.
The students and teachers facing potential pesticide exposure are in about 1,200 schools constructed close to Iowa farmlands where pesticides are constantly used to control crop pests and animals.
According to IowaWatch, a non-profit news organization, nine out of all 10 public schools districts in Iowa are located 2,000 feet – or three city buildings, from farmlands. Due to this closeness, pesticides sprayed on farm crops drift via the air onto school property where students and teachers become exposed to the pesticides. Many teachers and school administrators confess they are not aware of the dangers of getting exposed to pesticides drifting from neighborhood farms.
Early Symptoms of Exposure to Pesticide Spray Drifts
Iowa’s Center for Agricultural Safety and Health states that pesticides sprayed on farmlands drift to other areas in two ways. Pesticides are immediately carried in the air to other areas while the spraying is ongoing, and it also occurs through volatilization, where pesticides evaporate into the air in gaseous forms and travel to unintended areas. Experts say pesticide spray drifts come in contact with plants, animals and humans in other areas in forms of dust, odor, vapor and spray.
“It happens a lot. Growers work really hard to keep that from happening,” said Terry Basol, Iowa State Extension field agronomist. “Most growers and everybody who are spraying pesticides are very aware and take all the precautions that they can from things like that happening as much as they can.”
The Pesticide Safety Education Program at Cornell University reveals that acute pesticide poisoning comes with early symptoms. These include –
- A headache
- Aching joints
- Skin and eye irritation
- Loss of appetite, etc.
Young Children Suffer Neurodevelopmental Disorders When Exposed To Pesticides
According to health experts, the type of pesticide and the amount a person is exposed to determines its toxicity. Individuals exhibit varying degrees and wide ranges of symptoms after exposure. The Pesticide Safety Education Program reports that symptoms of acute exposure to a large amount of pesticides may be equal to exposure to tiny amounts over a long period.
Young pupils fare worse when exposed to farm chemicals since their bodies are still developing. A study by researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health and the Icahn School of Medicine found that harm from chemicals on children’s bodies can result in serious neurodevelopmental disorders such as ADHD.
Chronic pesticide poisoning is often indicated by symptoms such as “nervousness, slowed reflexes, irritability or a general decline in health.”
One-third of neurobehavioral disorders are caused directly by pesticides, as The National Academy of Science estimates. In the U.S., 15 percent of all children have one or more developmental disabilities, which is a 17 percent increase over the previous decade.
A research report published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives and titled “Proximity to Crops and Residential Exposure to Agricultural Herbicides in Iowa” found that houses closer to farms showed more pesticides present in residential houses. Approximately 400,000 to 600,000 children experience neurodevelopmental disorders each year due to the spraying of pesticides, according to the Environmental Health Perspectives.
Any Solution to Pesticide Drift?
One solution to the problem is to create buffer zones between farmlands and schools or other public spaces, but only 18 percent of U.S. states require such buffer zones. Some argue labels on pesticide bottles are enough of a warning, but others disagree.
“The label said these are dangerous things,” Robert Faux, an organic farmer in Iowa said. “Then they should probably be calling when they are going to apply a dangerous thing on the field next to you, and you should probably be aware of it if it drifts or you need to take precautions. There is no such rule right now.”
Passing legislature to regulate pesticide spraying may be tough considering the agricultural industry’s power in state legislature’s where farms are a big industry.
“Industrial agriculture has its grip on this Legislature. I’ve seen that before, and that generally stifles regulatory consideration when you have a legislature like it is now,” Iowas Senator David Johnson said to IowaWatch.
For now, the local Iowa high school working with IowaWatch on the pesticide drift report said about the only option they had was to talk directly to the neighboring farms.
“I think about the only thing the district could do is to bring that concern up to the landowner,” said the local school board secretary. “I know that the gentlemen that owns that property also owns other properties adjacent to residential developments in the community, so I can’t imagine that he would not be sensitive to our requests,” he said.