(Beyond Pesticides, December 8, 2015) Exposure to common agricultural pesticides in early life leads to a measurable decrease in children’s lung functioning, according to researchers from the University of California, Berkeley. Organophosphate pesticides, a relatively older generation of crop chemicals still widely used on farms in California, have been associated with a broad range of diseases in both children and adults. This latest study adds to calls from health and environmental advocates to eliminate these toxic pesticides in agriculture, and move towards safer, sustainable, and organic management practices.
The higher the rate of organophosphate exposure, the smaller a child’s lung capacity would be, scientists found. The UC Berkeley study traces exposure by looking at pesticide metabolites in urine five times over the course of childhood (6 months to 5 years). Participants were part of the Center for the Health Assessment of Mothers and Children of Salinas (CHAMACOS), a longitudinal birth cohort study investigating the effects of pesticides and other environmental chemicals on the growth, health, and development of children in California’s Salinas Valley.
For every 10-fold increase in pesticide metabolites measured in a child’s urine, an average of approximately 8% air function within the lungs was lost. “Researchers have described breathing problems in agricultural workers who are exposed to these pesticides, but these new findings are about children who live in an agricultural area where the organophosphates are being used,” said study senior author Brenda Eskenazi, PhD, a professor of epidemiology and of maternal and child health. “This is the first evidence suggesting that children exposed to organophosphates have poorer lung function.”
Scientists determined these results after adjusting for smoking during pregnancy, season of birth, exposure to particulate matter, breast feeding duration, mold and pets at home, distance of a home to a highway, food insecurity, mother’s education, season at which the test was administered, and the child’s height and gender, according to the study.
The authors indicate that the effect of pesticide exposure is equivalent to that seen when children are exposed to secondhand smoke.
“This study adds exposure to organophosphate pesticides to the growing list of environmental exposures – including air pollution, indoor cook stove smoke and environmental tobacco smoke – that could be harmful to the developing lungs of children,” said lead author Rachel Raanan, PhD. “Given they are still used worldwide, we believe our findings deserve further attention.”
Of paramount concern are the health implications for children with similar levels of exposure across the country. “If the reduced lung function persists into adulthood, it could leave our participants at greater risk of developing respiratory problems like COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease),” said Dr. Raanan. A separateCHAMACOS study published earlier this year echoed the current findings, showing an association with pesticide exposure and possible asthma in childhood.
Organophosphates are pesticides derived from World War II nerve agents. In addition to being potent neurotoxicants, organophosphates are extremely harmful to thenervous system, as they are cholinesterase inhibitors and bind irreversibly to the active site of an enzyme essential for normal nerve impulse transmission. Although organophosphate use is on the decline in the U.S., the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has allowed the continued registration of many of these products. As a result of a lawsuit by environmental groups, the agency recently proposed a rulethat would to remove one of the most potent organophosphates, chlorpyrifos, from use in agricultural production. However, EPA is not expected to finalize the rule until December 2016. Health and environmental advocates must remain vigilant of Dow, the pesticides’ manufacturer, and its ability to lobby Congress to protect its profits of children’s health.
Studies have documented that exposure to even low levels of organophosphates during pregnancy can impair learning, change brain function, and alter thyroid levels of offspring into adulthood. The evidence of hazards to children as a result of organophosphate exposure is robust and highly concerning, even for those that do not live in or around agricultural fields, as these chemicals are frequently detected on food.
The most surefire way consumers can avoid exposure to toxic organophosphates and protect children’s health is by supporting organic agriculture. Buying organic not only means that your food is safer, it means that the farmworkers who grow the food we eat and their children are not subject to toxic insult. Find out more about why organic is the right path forward for the future of farming by going to Beyond Pesticides’ organic agriculture webpage.
This article was republished with permission from Beyond Pesticides.
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