pesticidesOne of the most overlooked pesticide exposure pathways is the urban environment. Urban residents become exposed during spraying and fumigation of homes and apartment buildings. Communities also often spray pesticides in parks and on roadways to kill unwanted insects and weeds. Many schools and child care centers utilize chemicals to control their indoor and outdoor pest problems.

In California, urban use of pesticides in and around our homes, schools, workplaces and communities equals or exceeds all in-state agricultural use of these chemicals.

Home use of pesticides is the largest source of exposure for most children.1 Over ½ of pesticide-related poisonings cases in California are due to non-agricultural use, including home use insecticides.2

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Health Impacts of Pesticides

Chemical pesticides can cause immediate poisonings that result in stinging eyes, rashes, blisters, nausea, dizziness, diarrhea, vomiting and even death for tenants. Over the long-term, exposure to pesticides has been linked to cancers, birth defects, reproductive and developmental harm, damage to brain function, and disruption of the body’s hormone system — health impacts that can occur months or years after exposure.

Some 40 pesticides in use in California are known to cause cancer in animals. Forty-three pesticides registered in California, including the widely used fumigant Methyl Bromide, are listed as known to cause birth defects or impair childhood development.

Children are more vulnerable to pesticide exposure. Infants and young children are known to be more susceptible than adults to the toxic effects of chemical pesticides. Children are more vulnerable to chemical exposures because their organs, nervous systems and immune systems are still developing, and their higher rates of cell division and lower body weight also increase their susceptibility to pesticide exposure and risks Children also have greater contact with environmental contaminants because of personal behaviors such as crawling on floor surfaces and hand-to-mouth habits.An analysis of all reported pesticide poisonings in the United States showed that 57% of all cases involved children under the age of 6 years.3

PSR-LA’s Current Pesticide Reform Work

PSR-LA’s work centers on reducing the use of and exposure to harmful pesticides in the home, with a particular focus on low-income, communities of color. Our strategy to reduce urban pesticide use includes the following activities:

  • Creating market demand for safer pest control by securing commitments to use Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and existing IPM certifications programs, such as Green Shield Certified, from property management companies, low-income housing developers and local governments in the greater Los Angeles area.
  • Conducting public education, training and technical assistance on the health impacts of pesticide use and IPM to groups working on healthy homes issues and health professionals.
  • Working with Californians for Pesticide Reform to pass statewide legislation that promotes low-risk pest control and reduces exposure to harmful pesticides.

Creating Market Demand for Low-Risk Pest Control

PSR-LA has engaged several of the largest low-income housing developers and property managers in the Los Angeles area in a strategy to decrease the use of harmful pesticides in their buildings through the integration of IPM and Green Shield Certification. Our housing partners include: Community Corporation of Santa Monica, Esperanza Community Housing Corporation, Little Tokyo Service Center, and Los Angeles Community Design Center.

To date, Esperanza Community Housing Corporation and Los Angeles Community Design Center have committed to integrating IPM in their apartment buildings.

PSR-LA has also begun working with Los Angeles-area pest control providers to increase their use of IPM by becoming Green Shield Certified. In March 2008, Colby Pest Control became the first Green Shield certified IPM provider in southern California!

In order to create viable markets for IPM in Southern California PSR-LA is advocating for the adoption of IPM policies at the county and city-level. To date, PSR-LA has engaged the County of Ventura in its IPM campaign. Ventura is presently in the process of developing an IPM program for its county buildings-a program based on the city of Santa Barbara’s very successful policy. PSR-LA is also developing a campaign in the city of Los Angeles to win adoption of IPM in all city-owned and managed buildings.

Our partnerships with local governments, businesses and nonprofits supports and builds the demand for safer, more effective pest control options.

Healthy Homes

From 2009–2012, Physicians for Social Responsibility–Los Angeles, with funding from the California
Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR), conducted a three-year Healthy Homes Alliance IPM Pilot
(HHA) Project in the City of Los Angeles. The HHA IPM Pilot project—based on a model developed by
Boston Housing Authority and the Boston Healthy Public Initiative—identified buildings with cockroach
infestations and worked with tenants, building personnel, and owners to train all participants to implement IPM practices. View the final report for the Healthy Homes Alliance Pilot Project here.

One of PSR-LA’s key partners in its IPM work is the Healthy Homes Collaborative. The Collaborative is an association of community-based and health organizations committed to eliminating environmental hazards in homes in Los Angeles County.

Within the Collaborative, PSR-LA is leading the development and implementation of an IPM campaign in the greater Los Angeles area. The goal of the campaign is to decrease the use of pesticides in low-income buildings in Los Angeles through education, organizing, enforcement of existing code violations and potentially introducing new policy.

Check out this article, Bed-Bugs and Beyond, written by PSR-LA, which discusses low-risk pest control alternatives and why housing advocates need to be aware of the risks associated with using conventional pesticides.

PSR-LA is beginning to work with area community clinics and health professionals to increase their awareness of pesticide poisoning signs and symptoms. Pesticide poisonings are difficult to diagnose and recognize as they present similar to the common cold or flu. However, doctors are required to report pesticides poisonings or illness to their local health officer within 24 hours. See PSR-LA’s flyer on What Doctors Should Know about Pesticide Poisonings.

PSR-LA also continues to train and educate hundreds of healthy homes advocates on the use of IPM and how to decrease exposure to harmful pesticides in the home.

In 2005, PSR-LA produced a series of low-risk pest management education tools for organizers and health promoters as a means to address the overuse and misuse of highly toxic pesticides in sub-standard housing. These tools assist in organizing residents to advocate for the reduced use of hazardous pesticides in rental apartments across Los Angeles.

In 2007 PSR-LA trained over 200 organizers and health promoters from partner organizations such as St. John’s Well Child and Family Center, Esperanza Community Housing Corporation, Pacoima Beautiful, Coalition for Economic Survival and People’s Core, just to name a few.


1Moran, K, Pesticide Use in Urban Surface Water, Pesticide Use Trends Annual Report 2006, tdc Environmental, June, 2006.
2California Department of Pesticide Regulation.
3Klein-Schwartz W, Smith GS. Agricultural and horticultural chemical poisoning: mortality and morbidity in the U.S. Ann Emerg Med 1997;29(2):232-38.