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Today's children are less healthy than they were a generation ago, and science shows that pesticides are contributing to the trend. This is the core finding of a new report released today by Pesticide Action Network and partner groups in California, Minnesota and Iowa.

As a mom who, like all parents, cares deeply about the health of my kids, I find the report both profoundly disturbing and deeply motivating. As one of the report co-authors, I'm hoping A Generation in Jeopardy will be used to jumpstart a long overdue national conversation about how pesticides are undermining our children's health and intelligence — and how we can, and must, do better.

From learning disabilities, ADHD and autism to childhood cancers, early puberty and more, a growing body of evidence links pesticide exposure with many childhood diseases and disorders that are on the rise. A Generation in Jeopardy: How pesticides are undermining our children's health & intelligencemakes a compelling case, based on careful review of the latest science, that it's high time we make our children's health a national priority.

Compelling science

Our team of scientists at PAN reviewed more than 200 recent studies exploring how pesticides are linked to a range of childhood health harms. We also took a careful look at government data tracking the trends in these diseases and disorders. The numbers are rising — in some cases dramatically — and evidence of the role pesticides play keeps piling up.

The science linking exposure to neurotoxic pesticides to harm of the developing brain and nervous system is especially strong, and public health experts are raising the alarm about a “silent pandemic” of learning disabilities and disorders undermining the potential of an entire generation of children.

A few other specific findings from the report:

  • 400,000 to 600,000 of the 4 million U.S. children born each year are affected by some kind of developmental disability — a 17% rise in the past 15 years. Many recent studies link exposure to pesticides — even at very low levels — with increased risk of ADHD, autism and drops in IQ levels.
  • More than 10,000 children are now diagnosed with cancer every year, and incidence of leukemia and childhood brain tumors, the two most common types of childhood cancer, have risen 40% and 50%, respectively since 1975. Studies suggest that exposure to pesticides during pregnancy and early childhood are contributing to this trend.
  • Today, more than 7 million U.S. children are affected by asthma, up from an estimated 2 million in 1980. Emerging science points to pesticides as a possible contributing factor.

The list goes on.

To be clear, pesticides are not the only driver of these health harms. Scientists agree there are many factors at play, and that there is often a combination of genetic predisposition and environmental contaminants involved.

But pesticide exposure is a piece of the puzzle that we can do something about — if we set our minds to it, roll up our sleeves and work together to make change.

Household choices not enough

As a mother of two teenagers, I know we can take steps at home to reduce our family’s pesticide exposure. The food we eat, how we control bugs in our backyard garden, what we do about that line of ants that shows up every spring — these are important choices that really do make a difference.

But household choices alone cannot solve this problem. It's just too big. We use more than a billion pounds of pesticides a year in this country, and these chemicals are harming our children.

We need policies at the local, state and national level that will bring these numbers down, that will better support schools, cities and farmers that want to reduce the use of pesticides. And we need them urgently.

Put simply, our children’s health must be a national priority. It's time.

A version of this post also appeared on GroundTruth.

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