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Pesticides are substances used to destroy, prevent, repel, or mitigate pests. Pests may include animals, insects, unwanted plants (weeds), fungi, or microorganisms. The word pesticide encompasses insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, and other substances used to control pests. Many common household products are pesticides, including cockroach sprays and baits; insect repellents; kitchen, laundry, and bath disinfectants and sanitizers; and some lawn and garden products.

Pesticides play an important role in controlling insects, weeds, pests, and disease-causing organisms all around us. Effective pesticide use allows farmers to maintain stable crop yields providing food and food products at a lower cost to consumers. Pesticides have also significantly helped control the spread of vector-borne diseases around the world, including malaria, West Nile virus, and yellow fever.

Risk Factors

Pesticides are designed to kill living organisms and thus can also harm humans, other animals, and the environment more generally. Historic pesticide use and current pesticide drift are important exposure pathways for children. Former agricultural areas may contain persistent chemicals such as arsenic and organochlorines in their soils. Age-related behavioral characteristics, such as increased hand-to-mouth activity, enhance a child's exposure to pesticide residue-containing dust.

Health Effects

Few studies have been conducted on low-level pesticide exposure in children, but evidence indicates that exposure to certain pesticides affects neurodevelopment in growing animals. Additionally pesticides have been linked to childhood cancers including brain cancer and leukemia.