Three new government-funded studies link pre-natal pesticide exposure and later learning disabilities

Pre-natal exposure to an especially toxic class of pesticides called "organophosphate pesticides" or OP's, has been linked to poor memory, learning deficits, and lower IQ when the children are school-aged in three studies just published today. These studies show that the fetus is a uniquely vulnerable time of development, and confirm the wisdom of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) when it cancelled household uses of most (but not all) OP's in 2001 based on evidence of harm from laboratory studies. However, despite repeat calls by NRDC for EPA to cancel the agriculture uses of OPs, millions of pounds are still used every year on our food crops.

All three of today's studies were done by federally-funded university scientists, and published in the government-supported high quality scientific journal, Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP), which allows free access to all its articles online.

These findings are a game-changer - they provide irrefutable evidence from children whose mothers were exposed to household pesticides while pregnant that early-life exposure to OP pesticides causes long-lasting serious neurological impairments.

My colleague, medical doctor and environmental health expert Dr. Gina Solomon has  blogged with more detail about the health effects and results of these three studies.

I would like to point out something about these studies that may otherwise go unnoticed - the value of taxpayer support for this important independent high-quality research. Without government research funding to support independent university researchers we would have to trust the manufacturers regarding the safety of their products. 

Here is what the chemical manufacturers say: "Dow AgroSciences is prepared to support continued registration of chlorpyrifos and has extensive scientific data and 40 years of experience with the product under labeled use to bring to these evaluations." Not very comforting, is it?

In response to a 2007 petition and 2010 lawsuit by NRDC and Pesticide Action Network (PANNA), EPA has committed to reviewing the health effects of chlorpyrifos, the OP pesticide that is the culprit in the three studies released today. We hope that this time EPA will cancel all uses, and get it out of our food supply forever.

Prenatal Exposure to Organophosphates, Paraoxonase 1, and Cognitive Development in Childhood” will be available here. Study coauthors include Stephanie M. Engel, James Wetmur, Jia Chen, Chenbo Zhu, Dana Boyd Barr, Richard L. Canfield, and Mary S. Wolff. 

Prenatal Exposure to Organophosphate Pesticides and IQ in 7-Year-Old Children” will be available here. Study coauthors include Maryse F. Bouchard, Jonathan Chevrier, Kim G. Harley, Katherine Kogut, Michelle Vedar, Norma Calderon, Celina Trujillo, Caroline Johnson, Asa Bradman, Dana Boyd Barr, and Brenda Eskenazi. 

7-Year Neurodevelopmental Scores and Prenatal Exposure to Chlorpyrifos, a Common Agricultural Pesticide” will be available here. Study coauthors include Virginia Rauh, Srikesh Arunajadai, Megan Horton, Frederica Perera, Lori Hoepner, Dana B. Barr, and Robin Whyatt. 

About the Authors

Jennifer Sass

Senior Scientist, Federal Toxics, Health and Food, Healthy People & Thriving Communities Program

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