Pesticides and Child Safety

Although pesticides can be beneficial to society, they can be dangerous if used carelessly or if they are not stored properly and out of the reach of children. According to data collected from the American Association of Poison Control Centers, in 1993 alone, an estimated 80,000 children were involved in common household pesticide-related poisonings or exposures in the United States.

A survey by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regarding pesticides used in and around the home revealed some significant findings:

  • Almost half, 47%, of all households with children under the age of five had at least one pesticide stored in an unlocked cabinet, less than 4 feet off the ground (i.e., within the reach of children).
  • Approximately 75% of households without children under the age of five also stored pesticides in an unlocked cabinet, less than 4 feet off the ground (i.e., within the reach of children). This number is especially significant because 13% of all pesticide poisoning incidents occur in homes other than the child's home.

Bathrooms and kitchens were cited as the areas in the home most likely to have improperly stored pesticides. Examples of some common household pesticides found in bathrooms and kitchens include roach sprays; chlorine bleach; kitchen and bath disinfectants; rat poison; insect and wasp sprays, repellents and baits; and, flea and tick shampoos and dips for pets. Other household pesticides include swimming pool chemicals and weed killers.

EPA has important regulatory authority over pesticides in the United States under the pesticide law known as the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, or FIFRA. Since 1981, the law has required most residential-use pesticides with a signal word of "Danger" or "Warning" to be in child-resistant packaging. These are the pesticides which are most toxic to children. Child-resistant packaging is designed to prevent most children under the age of five from gaining access to the pesticide, or at least delay their access. However, individuals must also take precautions to protect children from accidental pesticide poisonings or exposures.



  • Always store pesticides away from children's reach in a locked cabinet or garden shed. Child-proof safety latches may also be installed on cabinets and can be purchased at your local hardware store;
  • Always read the label first and follow the directions to the letter, including all precautions and restrictions;
  • Before applying pesticides (indoors or outdoors), always remove children and their toys as well as pets from the area and keep them away until the pesticide has dried or as long as is recommended by the label;
  • If your use of a pesticide is interrupted (perhaps by a phone call), always make sure to leave the container out of the reach of children while you are gone;
  • Never transfer pesticides to other containers that children may associate with food or drink;
  • Use child-resistant packaging properly by always closing the container tightly after use;


  • Never place rodent or insect baits where small children can get to them;
  • Alert others to the potential hazard of pesticides, especially caregivers and grandparents;
  • Teach children that "pesticides are poisons" and something they should not touch;
  • Keep the telephone number of your area Poison Control Center near your telephone. (National Poison Center - 1-800-222-1222)

IN CASE OF AN EMERGENCY, try to determine what the child was exposed to and what part of the body was affected before you take action, since taking the right action is as important as taking immediate action. The pesticide product label provides you with a "Statement of Treatment" to follow in emergencies. Administer the indicated initial first aid; then contact your local Poison Control Center, physician, local emergency number (911 in most areas), or the operator.

The following require immediate attention before calling for assistance - remember, act fast because speed is crucial:

  • Swallowed Pesticide - Induce vomiting ONLY if the emergency personnel on the phone tell you to do so. It will depend on what the child has swallowed; some petroleum products or caustic poisons will cause more damage if the child is made to vomit. Always keep Syrup of Ipecac on hand (one ounce for each child in the household) to use to induce vomiting if recommended by the emergency personnel. Be sure the date on the product is current.
  • Pesticide In Eye - Eye membranes absorb pesticides faster than any other external part of the body; eye damage can occur in a few minutes with some types of pesticides. If pesticide splashes into an eye, hold the eyelid open and wash quickly and gently with clean running water from the tap or a gentle stream from a hose for at least 15 minutes. If possible, have someone else contact a Poison Control Center for you while the victim is being treated. Do not use eye drops or chemicals or drugs in the wash water.
  • Pesticide On Skin - If pesticide splashes on the skin, drench area with water and remove contaminated clothing. Wash skin and hair thoroughly with soap and water. Later, discard contaminated clothing or thoroughly wash it separately from other laundry.
  • Inhaled Pesticide - Carry or drag victim to fresh air immediately. (If proper protection is unavailable to you, call for emergency equipment from the Fire Department.) Loosen victim's tight clothing. If the victim's skin is blue or the victim has stopped breathing, give artificial respiration and call rescue service for help. Open doors and windows so no one else will be poisoned by fumes.

Additional pesticide product information can be obtained from the National Pesticide Telecommunications Network (NPTN) at 1-800-858-7378. NPTN is a toll-free information service funded by EPA and operated by the Oregon State University Monday through Friday 9:30 a.m. - 7:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.


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