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Today's Science Insight
Apr 20, 2010
A "Silent Pandemic" of Developmental Effects
A team of scientist assessed the impacts of pesticide exposure in a group of Ecuadorian school children ages 6-8.
The study was carried out in northern Ecuador, where floriculture (cut flower production) is intensive and relies heavily on female employees working inside greenhouses that are routinely treated with pesticides.
All children (87) in two grades in the local public school were examined using a battery of neurobehavioral tests. Information on the mothers' pesticide exposures during pregnancy was obtained and the children's current pesticide exposure was assessed from the urinary excretion of organophosphate (OP) metabolites and biomarkers.
Of 84 eligible mothers, 35 were exposed to pesticides during pregnancy due to maternal occupation, and 23 had indirect exposure from residues brought into the home by fathers.
Twenty-two children had detectable, current OP exposure. According to the authors, "Only children with prenatal exposure from maternal greenhouse work showed consistent deficits." Adverse impacts included stunting, impired motor skills and eye-hand coordination, and decreased visual memory.
"These associations corresponded to a developmental delay of 1.5-2 years."
Prenatal pesticide exposure was also significantly associated with elevated systolic blood pressure and a slight decrease in body mass index.
The team's conclusion is chilling -- "These findings support the notion that prenatal exposure to pesticides - at levels not producing adverse health outcomes in the mother can cause lasting adverse effects on brain development. Pesticide exposure therefore may contribute to a 'silent pandemic' of developmental neurotoxicity."
Source: Harari R, Julvez J, Murata K, Barr D, Bellinger DC, Debes F, et al. 2010. Neurobehavioral Deficits and Increased Blood Pressure in School-Age Children Prenatally Exposed to Pesticides. Environmental Health Perspectives: doi:10.1289/ehp.0901582
Access the abstract or full paper on the EHP website.
Paper Received: Ocotber 16, 2009; Online: February 25, 2010