French fries and pesticides for fun and profit

I've just come back from a month in the country where I let my young daughter ride in the back of a pick-up truck (sitting down). She drank unfiltered water from the last unlogged watershed in California and only had to wash her hands if her fingers were stuck together or completely hidden by dirt. For breakfast, lunch, and dinner, she ate blackberries.

Some of my favorite childhood memories are of these activities and they don't seem any more dangerous to me now then they did when I was a kid. I'm not sure if parents just worry more than they used to or if things are objectively less safe. But two new pieces of information have me leaning to the latter.

The first is a report in the Baltimore Sun about the Environmental Protection Agency's unethical use of testing pesticides on children:

"Congress reviewed 22 EPA-related human studies conducted by the pesticide companies and found that test subjects didn't know what they were being exposed to and, in many cases, had no idea why the testing was being done."

In the most disturbing report, a proposed EPA agency project would have used $2 million from the chemical industry to measure the pesticide consumption of young children in low-income households. According to the Sun, "The EPA would have paid the parents every time they sprayed pesticides [on the rugs]. Children in the program were to be given teething rings and slices of cheese because researchers knew the youngsters would drop them, then place them in their mouths. In addition, the project was to have given parents about $1,000 and video equipment to monitor and record their children's activities."

It's hard to imagine that any person in the EPA with children would knowingly expose infants to pesticides. But then, people have always been cavalier about exposing other people's children to risk--in coal mines and in chemical factories. What is particularly disturbing in this case is that the EPA administrators couldn't help but know the harmful effects of what they were doing.

Unlike the EPA suits spraying pesticides, parents didn't knowingly causing harm when they indulged their preschoolers love of french fries. But apparently, they may have done just as much damage. The International Journal of Cancer reports that girls between the ages of 3 and 5 who ate french fries once a week, had a 27 percent increased rick of getting breast cancer.

As one of the world's most committed french-fry eaters, this news was particularly disturbing. (For my 13th birthday, I had an all-you-can-eat french fry fest. I won't tell you how many I ate, but suffice to say it was a number in the triple digits and cured me of the worst of my french-fry obsession).

So now we have new rules in our house. No playing on carpets. No more french fries for either me or my daughter. But until research proves differently, she's still allowed all the blackberries she wants in the summer, and she's still allowed in the back of pick up trucks on country roads, as long as the truck doesn't exceed ten miles per hour.

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