The second major environment is the suburban one, where homes are typically separated from each other by a reasonable amount of land, and they tend to be newer and the schools are newer. These are usually middle-class, upper middle-class and upper-class neighborhoods where there is a considerable amount of education and financial support. The children who live in more spacious or suburban environments are subjected to air pollution and special problems based on the location. (See Chapter 3, “Sub-problems, Factors Leading to Impairment for the Built Environment in Suburban Areas,” for a much more detailed discussion of this topic.)
(See endnotes 6, 13)
The third major type of environment is the agricultural environment, where there is a mixture of middle-class and lower-class areas based on the occupations of the parents. This is where you find a substantial amount of migrant labor with all the problems associated with this group including inability or low ability to work within the English-speaking world. This latter group lives in considerable poverty and has a very insecure base for children’s health and growth. The children who live within the agricultural communities are most vulnerable to agricultural chemicals and also poor living conditions if they belong to migrant worker families.
Latino children are particularly at risk because they represent one in six children in the United States but are mostly concentrated in areas of substantial exposure to air pollutants, pesticides, and other toxic chemicals. Latino children have a higher rate of injuries, asthma, and lead and mercury poisoning and are subjected to higher levels of cancer, which may also be caused by extensive ultraviolet radiation exposure from the sun. Behavioral and developmental problems are greater in this group of children who typically have preexisting conditions and suffer from poor nutrition, poor housing, inadequate medical care, and an inability to use existing resources because of language barriers. Latino children along the US-Mexico border have additional problems because of environmental contamination due to poor water, inadequate sewage disposal, hazardous waste disposal, and poor solid waste disposal.
Farming and other agricultural work is associated with high rates of occupational injury, disability, and illness in all people, especially children, who have a disproportionate amount of serious injuries and deaths.
Weather conditions are an added factor causing injury, illness, and death in the agricultural setting for children. Typically, they work 10-12 hours a day in many cases in 100°F under a very hot sun. This leads to many heat-related conditions, dehydration, and reduction in the normal body’s resistance to disease. The sun can also be a cause of skin cancer at various times in the person’s life.
Drowning rates for all age groups of children are three times higher in rural areas than in urban areas. Rural areas tend to have more bodies of water which are unsupervised, including farm ponds, irrigation canals, and small streams. Also, liquid manure areas can easily become a place of drowning for the small, inexperienced child. Abandoned wells which are not properly secured create another potential hazard. Among older children, the consumption of alcohol before or during water activities leads to drowning.
The machinery and tools that the children utilize are by nature very dangerous. Although they may not be old enough to drive a car, they may be driving farm equipment which can cause severe injuries and death. Many of the accidents are due to inexperience, lowered ability to recognize potentially hazardous situations, and inadequate training. The resulting muscular and bone injuries can affect the child for the rest of his/her life.
Modern farming in the United States has become in many ways a very large, resource-intensive business. These farms tend to have higher production per acre, a reduction in biodiversity, and increased dependence on fertilizers and pesticides that are not part of the normal environment of the area and therefore are not easily assimilated into the local ecosystem. There is little understanding of the true costs of production, the severity of the impact caused by environmental toxicants, and the potential increase in disease levels, both short term and long term. Understanding of ergonomic factors related to farming procedures, prevention of injuries on the farm, and promotion of agricultural worker health is of great significance in developing sustainable agricultural practices.
Children are exposed to a variety of chemicals, since 75% of all pesticides used in the United States are used in the agricultural area. Especially significant is the high level of occupational lung disease from exposure to organic dusts in many agricultural environments. Also present in the dusts are endotoxins, bacteria, viruses, and fungi. In one community in the state of Washington, which was close to pesticide-treated orchards, the levels of pesticide metabolite concentrations in the urine of agricultural children were nine times higher than in other children. The children are exposed by a multitude of different routes. Pesticides are found in the air, food, water, dust, and on clothing, tools, vehicles, parents’ skin, shoes, and other surfaces.
The simple act of protecting oneself against disease by hand washing is typically not available to the children or the adults and therefore they have far greater opportunity for spread of disease and ingestion of chemicals.
The use of antibiotics in the agricultural setting has created in humans, especially children, resistance to various microbes. This has also led to multidrug-resistant bacteria. In the past 10-15 years there has been a rapid acceleration of the emergence of multidrug-resistant pathogens, especially Campylobacter and Salmonella. Almost 20% of Campylobacter infections from food and 33% of non-typhoidal Salmonella infections are found in children younger than 10 years of age. The rate of infection of Campylobacter in children less than 1 year of age is twice as high as in the general population. The rate of infection of non-typhoidal Salmonella in infants is 10 times as high as in the general population. Children, particularly very young children, are at high risk of developing infections with drug-resistant organisms linked to the agricultural use of antibiotics.