Photo via fruitforourchildren.com
In May 2010, TreeHugger reported on the research linking pesticide exposure and ADHD in children. A study published recently in Environmental Health Perspectives by U.C. Berkeley School of Public Health researchers found that exposure of children to organophosphates while in utero may result in increased likelihood that the child will have ADHD. While the study does not prove that there is a causal link between pesticides and ADHD, it is not a stretch to think that organophosphates that attack the nervous systems of insects could also interfere with brain function and development in children.The Mexican-American women and children who participated in the study live in Salinas Valley, an agricultural area in California that has intensive pesticide use. The Berkeley researchers conducted long term studies of health impacts on these women since the women first became pregnant in 2000. While pregnant, the researchers measured levels of pesticide residue in the mother's urine. More recently, they collected urine samples from the kids at ages 3½ and 5 and evaluated measures of attention disorders and ADHD, using the mothers' reports, performance on standardized computer tests and behavior ratings from examiners. The 5-year-olds who had been exposed to organophosphate pesticides while in utero had more problems with attention than kids who were not exposed. After correcting the data to account for lead exposure and other confounders, the researchers found that each tenfold increase in pesticide levels in the mothers' urine was associated with a fivefold increase in attention problems as measured by the assays. The finding was stronger for boys. The Berkeley study was important in that they have long term data.
Obviously for children living on or near agricultural areas, the impacts are expected to be more severe. Still, pesticide residues linger on produce making fruits and vegetables a significant source of pesticide exposure for all children. The findings suggest that people could reduce pesticide exposure by buying organic produce. The researchers did emphasize that it is more important for children to continue to eat fruits and vegetables (even conventionally grown) than to not eat them, but that it is very important to wash produce well. It is especially important to wash berries, stonefruit, apples and other produce known to have high amounts of pesticide residue.
Beyond watching what your kids eating, you can also check your children's school pest control policy and ensure that they are moving to less toxic alternatives, such as integrated pest management. Also ask that the school or daycare facility does not use pesticides on playing fields and on school grounds, except in an emergency.
ADHD is thought to affect 3% to 7% of American children, with boys affected more heavily than girls. Some attribute the increase to the greater use of pesticides. Although research regarding the link between pesticides and childhood diseases and disorders continues, the overall result is clear: pesticides are dangerous and need to be limited around the most vulnerable members of our community.