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California Healthy Schools Campaign

Pesticides and Asthma


Asthma is a chronic, potentially fatal inflammatory disease of the respiratory system. Nearly one-third of people with asthma are children. Asthma is the number one cause of hospitalization among children, the number one chronic health condition among children, and the leading cause of school absenteeism. (American Lung Association)

Children spend up to eight hours a day, five days a week, 120 days a year in school. We should be doing everything we can to minimize exposure to asthma-inducing conditions in the school environment.

According to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), asthma can be triggered by pesticides. Several types of pesticides are known to cause allergic reactions or airway constriction, including pyrethrins, pyrethroids, organophosphates, and carbamates.

Studies indicate that exposure to organophosphates disrupts the part of the nervous system that regulates the motor functioning of the lungs. This has lead researchers to hypothesize that pesticides are among the preventable causes of asthma in children. (Phillip Landrigan, MD, MSc, /docs/newsletterarticles/2000/ Aug2000/protectingchildren.htm)

Unfortunately, pesticide use in schools is widespread. A 2002 California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG) survey, found that the 15 largest school districts in California planned to use 54 different pesticide active ingredients that year. Four of the five pesticides most commonly used in California's schools have been linked to asthma and other respiratory problems: (See:



Cyfluthrin: Can cause irritation of the nose, throat, and upper respiratory tract, leading manufacturer Mobay Corp. to state, "persons with a history of asthma, emphysema, or hyperactive airways disease may be more susceptible to exposure." (Mobay Corporation, "Cyfluthrin" Material Safety Data Sheet, 1988)

Diazinon: Acute symptoms include wheezing, coughing, and pulmonary edema (swelling in the lung). (US EPA, Recognition, pp.3-4)

Glyphosate: Can cause accumulation of excess fluid in the lungs. Studies show that glyphosate can drift off-site as far as 1300 feet and can persist in soils for up to a year. (Cox, "Glyphosate," Part 2: Human Exposure and Ecological Effects, J. Pesticide Reform, Winter 1995)

Pyrethrins: Contain allergens that cross-react with ragweed and other pollens. People with asthma can have severe reactions to pyrethrins. (Moses, M., "Designer Poisons," Pesticide Education Center, San Francisco, CA, 1995)

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