Protect young children from pests and pesticides in childcare centres
In British Columbia, there are approximately 6,000 licensed childcare centres and 1,050 licensed adult and child residential care facilities, serving several tens of thousands of young children. Many childcare centres may have unwanted “guests” such as hitchhiking bedbugs, in addition to other pests including rodents, spiders, cockroaches, ants and flying insects. This results in the use of chemicals that can be potentially dangerous to children.
In California, a survey of 637 licensed childcare facilities found that 90 percent of centres reported at least one indoor or outdoor pest problem and that many of the childcare providers had used pesticides. A national survey of licensed American childcare centres show that children are potentially at risk of pesticide exposure at such facilities.
Children are particularly vulnerable to pests and pesticides due to their behavior and physiology. They tend to explore things and often reach the less “busy” areas that are likely contaminated with pests and pesticides. They spend more time on the floor and could have direct contact with pesticides. They have frequent hand-to-mouth contact, and eat, drink, and breathe more than adults; these factors could result in a bigger dose of toxic chemicals per body size. Children are sensitive to pesticides as their immune system and organs are usually less efficient at detoxifying chemicals.
Research has shown that childhood leukemia, asthma, and behavioural and neurodevelopmental disorders were associated with early childhood exposures to pesticides.
Integrated pest management (IPM) specifically targeted at childcare settings is the best approach to minimizing the exposure of children to pests and pesticides. In recent years, childcare-based IPM programs have been implemented successfully in several states in the U.S.
IPM is a relatively safe pest control method as its primary focus is pest prevention by eliminating the underlying conditions for pests.
British Columbia has the Integrated Pest Management Act in place, which requires the use of IPM on all public land and by all commercial pesticide applicators.
It is time for British Columbia to partner with stakeholders to focus on childcare centers for the health and safety of children and require by law to use IPM to control pests indoor and adjacent outdoor areas. An important first step should be to conduct a survey similar to California for pest problems and pesticide exposure in B.C. childcare centres.
Parents can also help to protect their children by encouraging their childcare providers to implement an IPM program.