By Kathleen Schuler, Healthy Legacy Co-Director and Senior Policy Analyst at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
Recently, Lynn Peeples at the Huffington post reported on how the pesticide industry is expanding its marketing to kids. The Mosquito Squad is a child-focused marketing scheme to sell kids on the need to spray dangerous pesticides to control those horrible monsters - mosquitoes! The free coloring books the Mosquito Squad offers to kids feature Dread Skeeter, poised to rescue you with his backpack-mounted pesticide spray gun. The solution, they claim, is to get your parents to have the Mosquito Squad spray your backyard so you don’t have to deal with those pesky mosquitoes.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time companies have tried to market products containing harmful chemicals to children. In 1929 Dutch Boy had an extensive campaign geared to sell kids on the benefits of white lead paint. They distributed Dutch Boy puppets and paint books to sell their 91% pure lead paint. One paint book was titled “A Magical Trip to Paint Land” and another was called “Dutch Boy Conquers Old Man Gloom.” Now we know that lead is a potent brain toxin and exposure to lead increases the risk for learning disabilities, reduced IQ and behavior problems. Lead in paint was not banned until 1978, in spite of the fact that the paint industry had known about the toxic effects of lead for sixty years. The resulting legacy is tens of thousands of children exposed to the neurotoxic effects of lead and significant financial burdens to society and individuals that we are still paying for, as we deal with lead poisoning and remediating houses and schools that contain lead paint.
Fast forward to 2012. It’s outrageous that companies are still using children to sell toxic chemicals. With lead we made the mistake of exposing kids with a presumption of safety and are still dealing with the toxic legacy that lead paint has left us. We need to learn from that experience: the legacy of potentially thousands of kids exposed to pesticides linked with developmental and reproductive effects, asthma and hormone disruption is yet unknown, but there is good reason to believe that we don’t escape unharmed from run-ins with pesticides. Whether spraying to control mosquitoes is even effective is debatable. The Mosquito Squad is scaring kids with the threat of mosquitos, while putting them at risk for potentially serious adverse health effects. Whether to use pesticides or not (I hope not) is a decision for grown-ups. Tell the Mosquito Squad to “grow up” and stop marketing to kids.