Pesticides are, of course, designed to kill, but the big problem is that, with very few exceptions, it’s difficult to come up with a product which will deal with its intended pest target, and be completely harmless to everything else. It’s an obvious problem for parents.
It is hard to generalise too much about which chemicals are more dangerous than others, as in practice, it depends on a range of factors including the concentration used, how it has been administered and the age and general health of the ‘victim’. Suffice to say that the UK’s rigorous approach of testing weed-killers, insecticides and other similar products licensed for sale for home use means that really dangerous pesticides of years gone by are no longer available, but that still leaves a whole range of possible dangers. Today’ s products – chemicals such as thiacloprid, bifenthrin, glyphosate, mecoprop-P and methylchlorophenoxy acetic acid (MCPA) – are safe if they’re used properly, but that obviously doesn’t mean they can’t be harmful if they’re not.
For anyone with children it’s a serious concern, not least because they can be particularly susceptible to the effects of pesticides, since their organs are still developing, their skins are thinner and they’re just lower to the ground and enjoy exploring the world in a more direct way.
While some parents have adopted a rigid ‘no pesticide’ rule in response, for others, such chemicals still have their place in the garden, even though it comes at the price of constant care and vigilance. Of course, all the usual precautions and safety tips apply, but when it comes to keeping kids – especially very small ones – safe around pesticides, we have to go that extra mile to be sure.
Education, Education, Education!
Simply making kids aware of the dangers is a pretty good start, and with youngsters that are interested in gardening anyway, it shouldn’t be too difficult to do, although what you say will obviously need to be appropriate to their age and general awareness. For some kids a simple “don’t touch” will work, while others will respond better to a more complete explanation – and as a parent, you’re bound to know which approach to use with yours by now!
The important thing is not to delay starting to get the message across; don’t wait until your youngster is asking why Granny sprinkles those lovely blue ‘sweets’ all over her flower beds to start warning junior about slug pellets! When it comes to staying safe, there really is no point in being wise after the event.
If you have a mind to, and you judge that your kids are receptive to the idea, pesticide safety can be a useful spring board to a whole range of informal learning opportunities – and even to full-blown educational projects. If nothing else it’s a great chance for even the youngest kids to discover a bit more about the way gardens really work.
As every parent knows, however, no matter how often you tell your kids something, nor how well they know it, accidents can still happen – and when you’re dealing with something as potentially lethal as pesticides, that makes taking all the right precautions mightily important!
The most obvious way to keep your youngsters safe from harm is to ensure that they never have the opportunity to come into contact with these chemicals in the first place. ‘Never’ is a long time, however, and those sorts of guarantees are very hard to get in the real world, but you can still do a lot to make sure that the chances of your kids getting near to anything that could hurt them are as low as possible.
Read the Label
The label really is your friend. Although there are general points that apply to all pesticides – store them in their original containers, keep them away from inquisitive little hands and so on – a lot depends on the specific product you’re using and the label is where you’ll find everything you’ll need to know.
It is here you’ll find out about how to use the product, how long children (and their pets) should be kept away from areas where it has been sprayed and how to dispose of any excess safely. Follow all of this to the letter – and keep your youngsters out of the way while you’re actually applying it – and you shouldn’t go wrong.
The Symptoms of Poisoning
Of course, the object of the exercise is keeping kids safe around pesticides – so if you do see any symptoms, you’ve failed! That said, however, it can be useful to have an idea of what to look out for. The signs are much the same for almost any other kind of poisoning, and unfortunately that means they are so general, at least in mild cases, that many of them can also appear with anything from the onset of ‘flu to meningitis, so they’re not exactly diagnostic!
Any or all of the following may be present:
- Headaches, nausea and dizziness
- Weakness or fatigue
- Excessive thirst
- Loss of appetite
- Blurred vision
- Mood swings or fretfulness
Irritation may also be visible where contact was made with the pesticide, either in the mouth or throat or on the skin.
More Serious Poisoning
One or more of the ‘mild’ symptoms will usually be present along with one or more of:
- Stomach cramps
- Excessive salivation
In cases of severe poisoning, the symptoms of poisoning become much more dramatic and distressing, including convulsions, unconsciousness and stopping breathing.
If you suspect that a kid of yours is suffering any kind of ill effects from pesticide use, there’s really only one sensible course of action to be recommended – seek proper medical advice, and do it quickly! Better a call to the surgery or health centre that actually turns out to be unnecessary than a stay in hospital – or worse – if things are ignored for too long and develop into something serious. If you do ever find yourself needing to seek help, make sure you have that all important label to hand; aside of giving vital details as to what you’ve used, it will also have any relevant toxicological information which will give important help to the practitioner.
It all makes as good an argument for making sure your youngsters stay safe around pesticides as you’re ever going to get – and following these simple hints, coupled with a bit of common sense, should help ensure that they do.