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Protecting Youth at Work: Health, Safety, and Development of Working Children and Adolescents in the United StatesBetween 1985 and 1992, the Environmental Protection Agency reported more than 750 cases of reported exposure to pesticides involving youngsters under 18. The data on which these figures are based have been shown to have numerous weaknesses, such as limited coverage, underreporting of exposures, and lack of key data (U.S. General Accounting Office, 1993); therefore, the number of reported cases is likely to be an undercount of actual exposures.
Although several reviews have addressed the association of cancer and pesticide exposure among farmers and permanent farm help (Council on Scientific Affairs, 1988; Zahm and Blair, 1993; Zahm et al., 1997), few population-based studies have been published about the effects of pesticides and virtually none have focused on young workers. In California, three projects—a case study of a childhood cancer cluster (California Department of Health Services, 1988), a hospital record-based study of birth defects (Schwartz and LoGerfo, 1988), and a health survey (Mines and Kearney, 1982)—examined some of the effects. The investigations suggest that chronic health problems increase as a result of exposure to pesticides, but the studies have been limited in size and scope, and no clear conclusions have been reached regarding the magnitude of pesticide-related effects, particularly for children.
Poor Field Sanitation
A lack of clean drinking water, hand-washing facilities, and toilets presents another hazard to agricultural workers. This lack of sanitary facilities contributes to a spread of parasites. Rates of parasitic infections among migrant farmworkers have been found to be much higher than rates among the general population (Occupational Safety and Health Administration, 1987). A lack of water to wash and an absence of toilets in the field may result in infections, dermatitis, parasites, urinary tract infections, respiratory illnesses, eye disease, and other illnesses (Occupational Safety and Health Administration, 1987).
Long Hours and Strenuous Labor
Fatigue has been associated with increased risk of injury on the job (M. Miller, 1995; Rosa, 1995). Children's work in agriculture may include assisting with daily chores (such as milking cows) or