Chemical Linked to Nervous System Damage in Kids; NRDC Calls for Total Ban
WASHINGTON (December 4, 2006) -- A new study published today in a leading pediatric journal links a common pesticide with a variety of behavioral and attention disorders in young children. The finding confirms longstanding concern, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which is now calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to outlaw the widely used chemical, chlorpyrifos, also known by its trade names Dursban and Lorsban.
"Health experts have worried for years about the risk chlorpyrifos poses to pregnant mothers and their kids. Now we have the evidence," said Dr. Gina Solomon, a physician and senior scientist at NRDC. "We shouldn't be allowing a pesticide that could cause learning disorders to be used on fruits and vegetables, period."
NRDC sued the EPA in 1999 to force the agency to assess the safety of chlorpyrifos. As a result, in December 2001, the agency prohibited the chemical for virtually all household uses. But it still allows farmers to spray it on a variety of crops, many of which are commonly consumed by children.
The study published today in the peer-reviewed journal Pediatrics, tracked more than 250 inner-city children and their mothers, and found that children whose mothers were exposed to chlorpyrifos during pregnancy are at greater risk of having developmental delays by age 3.
Researchers linked prenatal exposure to the chemical to behavioral and attention problems, and to lower scores on standard neuropsychiatric tests. The children who received the most chlorpyrifos before birth were six-and-a-half times more likely than their less exposed peers to have evidence of attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) at age 3.
The lead author of the study, Dr. Virginia Rauh, deputy director of the Columbia Center for Children's Environmental Health, said the effects of the pesticide on developing brains is "comparable to what has been seen with exposures to other neurotoxicants such as lead and tobacco smoke" and "may have long-term consequences for social adjustment and academic achievement."
The study was co-authored by researchers from the Columbia Center for Children's Environmental Health at Columbia University and the federal Centers for Disease Control. For a copy of the study, go to: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/full/118/6/e1845.
Last year, nearly 5 million pounds of the pesticide were used on U.S. crops, mainly on apples, corn, grapes, oranges and soybeans, as well as on broccoli, nectarines, peaches, pears and cherries. The problem is even worse with produce grown in other countries, where regulations on pesticide use are more lax.
In 2004, for example, nearly 30 percent of imported Chilean grapes, 10 percent of imported Mexican strawberries, 7 percent of imported Mexican tomatoes, and 78 percent of imported Mexican bell peppers contained chlorpyrifos residue, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That same year 1 percent to 4 percent of the same crops grown in the United States had chlorpyrifos residue.
If the EPA bans chlorpyrifos, it would become illegal for imported agricultural products to contain residues of the pesticide.
Chlorpyrifos is one of a class of highly toxic pesticides called organophosphates. Although chlorpyrifos is only allowed in ant and roach baits in "child-resistant" packaging in the home, other organophosphates -- including dichlorvos in pest strips, malathion in head lice shampoos, and tetrachlorvinphos in pet flea-control products -- are still widely available. NRDC and other health advocates have called for the federal government to take all of these chemicals off the market.
"Because their bodies are still developing, children are generally more sensitive to the harmful effects of pesticides than adults," said Dr. Jennifer Sass, an NRDC senior scientist. "Unfortunately, the EPA has taken only half-measures to protect our kids."
The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 550,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.