Widespread Use of Pesticides Is Creating a 'Generation in Jeopardy,' Report Warns

By Perry, Susan | MinnPost.com, October 11, 2012 | Go to article overview

Widespread Use of Pesticides Is Creating a 'Generation in Jeopardy,' Report Warns


Perry, Susan, MinnPost.com


The widespread use of pesticides in homes and on farms is undermining our children's health and creating a "generation in jeopardy," according to a report released Wednesday by the California-based Pesticide Action Network (PAN).

"Children today are sicker than they were a generation ago," says the report. "From childhood cancers to autism, birth defects and asthma, a wide range of childhood diseases and disorders are on the rise. Our assessment of the latest science leaves little room for doubt: pesticides are one key driver of this sobering trend."

That assessment involved looking at dozens of studies published within the past five years that examined the effects of pesticides on children's health. In the report, PAN describes the research linking pesticides to birth defects, early puberty and childhood cancers. The report also discusses the studies that have begun to associate pesticides with some of the recent rise in the incidence of childhood asthma, obesity and diabetes.

But perhaps the most compelling evidence to date are the studies linking pesticides -- even at low doses -- to conditions that affect the brain and nervous system, such as autism and attention deficit hyperactivity (ADHD), as well as declines in IQ and increases in learning disabilities.

"The National Academy of Sciences now estimates that about one third of all neurobehavioral disorders (such as autism and ADHD) are caused either directly by pesticides and other chemicals or by interaction between environmental exposures and genetics," notes the report. "Some experts say this estimate is likely to be low, as the health profession is just beginning to fully recognize the contributions of environmental factors to disease formation."

'A preventable contributer'

"Pesticides contribute to a lot of these things. We know that. And we know that they are a preventable contributer," said Dr. David Wallinga, a senior advisor in science, food and health for the Minneapolis-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), in a phone interview Wednesday. His organization was not involved in the writing of the report, but it has been active in publicizing its release.

Organophosphates -- pesticides commonly used by commercial growers of fruits and vegetables -- are a "particularly nasty group" of neurotoxic chemicals, he said.

Research has shown, he said, that for each tenfold increase in the level of organophosphate in the urine of a pregnant woman, the risk of having a child with autism doubles and the risk of having a child with ADHD goes up fivefold.

One of the organophosphates highlighted in the PAN report is chlorpyrifos, which was once among the most commonly used household pesticides in the United States. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency banned its use in homes in 2001 for safety reasons, although it is still widely used in agriculture. In Minnesota, sales of chlorpyritos almost doubled from 1996 to 2009, according to Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) data. Earlier this year, the MDA announced that chlorpyritos was a "pesticide of concern" because it is being detected with increasing frequency and at elevated concentrations in Minnesota's surface water.

"A study in New York City found that infants most exposed to chlorpyrifos in utero were significantly more likely to have pervasive developmental disorders -- including autism -- by the time they were three years old," notes the PAN report.

The report also points to a Minnesota study, coauthored by Wallinga, that "explored the interaction of exposure to organophosphate pesticides, gene expression and dietary factors as potential contributors to autism" and found, among other things, "that mineral deficiencies linked to high fructose corn syrup consumption make developing minds more susceptible to the neurotoxic effects of pesticides." (High fructose corn syrup is, of course, a sweetener used in many processed foods and beverages. …

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