Child's play: Exposure to household pesticide use among children in rural, urban and informal areas of South Africa

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South African Medical Journal

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University of Cape Town

Background. As part of a larger dermatological investigation undertaken in 1999 - 2001 involving the Department of Dermatology, Groote Schuur Hospital (Cape Town, South Africa) and Nottingham University (UK), household pesticide use was investigated among Xhosa-speaking families living in three areas in South Africa (a rural area, an urban township and an informal settlement). Objectives. The aim was to characterise pesticide use patterns and potential exposures through skin absorption, ingestion and inhalation for this group of South African children. Methods. A standardised questionnaire, which included a section investigating household pesticide use, was administered by four trained fieldworkers to the parents/ guardians of the 740 children (25%) aged between 3 and 11 years identified as having atopic dermatitis either by clinical examination or according to the UK criteria (rural N=387, urban N=292, informal N=61). Results. Of the children with atopic dermatitis, 539 (73%) had been exposed to household pesticides. Most childhood exposure (89%) occurred in the informal settlements, followed by 78% in the urban area and 63% in the rural area. Conclusions. This research highlighted considerable home environment pesticide exposure of South African children in lower socio-economic groups in rural, urban and informal areas. As children are particularly vulnerable to the short- and long-term health effects of pesticide exposure, further indepth investigation is needed to ascertain and document the health effects associated with such exposure in the home.