cartoon image of man in a hazmat suit and backpack tank holding a spraying wand

Pesticides are substances we use to control or kill pests. Pests can be weeds, insects, rodents, or bacteria — anything we don’t want to have around.

Sometimes pesticides work too well. They may not only harm the intended pest but also other plants, animals, and people. Sometimes they end up in places we don’t want them to be — for example, in our air, water, and food.

How can people be exposed to pesticides?

People can be exposed to (come in contact with) pesticides by touching, swallowing, or inhaling (breathing) them.

How can pesticides affect my health?

Symptoms of pesticide exposure can vary depending on:

  • How long you’re exposed to pesticides
  • How much pesticide gets into your body
  • How the pesticide gets into your body
  • Tobacco smoke
  • What kind of pesticide you encounter

Exposure to pesticides can cause a range of health issues, including:

  • Damage to the endocrine system (the system that controls hormones, or the chemicals that regulate metabolism)
  • Damage to the nervous system
  • Irritation of skin and the eyes

Some content courtesy of the National Library of Medicine.

For parents
A pesticide is used to kill any plant or animal that is considered to be a pest. Learn more about pesticide research at NIEHS.
For Parents
Pesticides may be particularly harmful to young children. Repeated exposure to some pesticides over time can cause cancer. In serious cases, exposure to pesticides can even cause death. If you’re worried your health has been affected by pesticides, talk with your doctor at your next checkup. If you think someone has been poisoned by pesticides, call the Poison Control Center at 800-222-1222 right away.
For Kids
Did you know unwashed fruits and vegetables can have traces of pesticides on them? It is important to wash them thoroughly. This helps to remove leftover pesticides, as well as the dirt.