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Your Environment. Your Health.


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farm machinery spraying pesticides


A pesticide is any substance used to kill, repel, or control certain forms of plant or animal life that are considered to be pests. Pesticides include herbicides for destroying weeds and other unwanted vegetation, insecticides for controlling a wide variety of insects, fungicides used to prevent the growth of molds and mildew, disinfectants for preventing the spread of bacteria, and compounds used to control mice and rats. Because of the widespread use of agricultural chemicals in food production, people are exposed to low levels of pesticide residues through their diets. Scientists do not yet have a clear understanding of the health effects of these pesticide residues. Results from the Agricultural Health Study, an ongoing study of pesticide exposures in farm families, may be found at Other evidence suggests that children are particularly susceptible to adverse effects from exposure to pesticides, including neurodevelopmental effects. People may also be exposed to pesticides used in a variety of settings including homes, schools, hospitals, and workplaces.

A Watchful Eye on Farm Families' Health

In this New York Times video, Brenda Eskenazi, Ph.D., discusses results from the CHAMACOS study. When pregnant women are exposed to pesticides, their children may have health problems like wheezing or decreased IQ.

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Further Reading

Stories from the Environmental Factor (NIEHS Newsletter)

Printable Fact Sheets

Press Releases

Additional Resources

  • 14th Report on Carcinogens - The Report on Carcinogens (RoC) is a congressionally mandated, science-based, public health report that identifies agents, substances, mixtures, or exposures (collectively called "substances") in our environment that pose a hazard to people residing in the United States.
  • A Human Health Perspective on Climate Change (Full Report)(4MB) - A Report Outlining the Research Needs on the Human Health Effects of Climate Change.
  • Evaluating Chemicals: Is It Safe? - Toxicology Education Foundation has developed and provides audiovisual materials for the public and for health professionals to use in presentations to the public in partnership with NIEHS and others in the private sector. The goal of “Is It Safe?” is to empower the public to make good decisions about risk associated with every day products. (English with Japanese Subtitles)
  • PestiBytes: A Podcast Series on Common Pesticide Questions - PestiBytes are brought to you by the National Pesticide Information Center, a cooperative agreement between Oregon State University and the Environmental Protection Agency and produced by OSU's Environmental Health Sciences Center, funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
  • Pesticide Action Network North America - PAN seeks to reduce the use of pesticides through more economically viable alternatives. Publishes reports on pesticide use, health effects, occupational safety, etc. Website also offers a Pesticide Database that allows you to search by chemical or product.
  • Pesticide Exposure - The National Library of Medicine's (NLM) Enviro-health links website provides an excellent set of resources that address the relationship between pesticides and human health. The page provides links to selected websites on pesticide exposure, as well as on the treatment and prevention of pesticide poisoning.
  • Applying 21st Century Toxicology to Green Chemical and Material Design - Workshop Presentations from the National Academies Standing Committee on Use of Emerging Science for Environmental Health Decisions.

Related Health Topics

Research Links

  • Thayer KA, Heindel JJ, Bucher JR, Gallo MA. Role of Environmental Chemicals in Diabetes and Obesity: A National Toxicology Program Workshop Review. Environmental Health Perspectives. 2012;120(6):779-789. doi:10.1289/ehp.1104597. [Abstract] [PDF]

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