Parents must protect kids from harmful ‘forever’ chemicals | READER COMMENTARY

In May 2017, the water supply for the Spokane, Washington suburb of Airway Heights became undrinkable due to tests by nearby Fairchild Air Force Base. Chemicals called polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) from firefighting foam and other products seeped into groundwater, potentially poisoning people for decades. (Photo by Sarah Rice/Getty Images/TNS)


The finding of PFAS “forever chemicals” in pesticides used for mosquito control is indeed disturbing (”Researchers find harmful ‘forever chemicals’ in pesticide used against mosquitoes in Maryland,” March 25). This article and a subsequent letter to the editor (”Communities should opt out of mosquito spraying,” March 29) raised many concerns for human health, but the particular risks to children also deserve mention.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers any level of PFAS (per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances) to be toxicologically significant and describes one (PFOA) as “likely to be carcinogenic to humans.” A child playing on a lawn or yard treated with a PFAS-contaminated pesticide has a much greater risk of exposure by virtue of greater direct contact with these areas and a high level of hand-to-mouth activity. Because PFAS don’t degrade, there is persistent risk to kids throughout the months when spraying is conducted and when they are most active outdoors. In addition, runoff from treated areas can enter drinking water sources (one of the more common routes of ingestion), and an 8-ounce glass of water would expose a child to a much larger amount of PFAS, relative to body weight, than an average adult.


These chemicals are poorly excreted in humans, and the half-lives of some of these chemicals have been measured in years. A child’s potential lifetime exposure is a cause for great concern.

A PFAS Protection Act was submitted in both chambers of the Maryland General Assembly this year that would have prohibited PFAS chemicals in fire-fighting foam, food containers and carpets, as well as assuring proper disposal to prevent environmental contamination. Unfortunately, these bills never made it to a vote this session, allowing continued exposures from these sources.


Our children deserve to be protected from harmful chemicals. As responsible adults, we must assure that measures used to control mosquitoes do not create additional health risks for children.

Michael J. Ichniowski, M.D., Timonium

The writer is environmental health and climate change committee chairperson of the Maryland chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

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