In the first study of its kind, researchers at UC Berkeley have found that exposure to pesticides from a young age can cause decreased lung function and neurological problems.
Scientists at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health studied 279 children and 600 pregnant women in California’s Salinas valley and found that the use of agricultural chemicals in the area was as harmful as being exposed to second-hand smoke: leading to an 8% decrease in lung function, in addition to lower IQ.
Organophosphate pesticides are the most commonly used pesticides, and they target the nervous system. This is the first time their use has been successfully linked to respiratory problems in childhood. UC Berkeley’s epidemiologist Barbara Eskenazi discovered that each tenfold increase in concentrations of organophosphate metabolites was associated with a 159-milliliter decrease in lung function. In total, Eskenazi has taken 150,000 biological samples for this study, looking at children born between 2000 and 2002.
The scale of the research is unprecedented: Eskenazi has been measuring the effects of chemicals on pregnant women and their children for almost 16 years as part of the CHAMACOS study (the Center for Health Assessment for Mothers And Children Of Salinas). In addition to farm chemicals, flame retardants have also been tested for their effects on long-term health, and they were found to adversely affect fertility and neurological function.
The findings, published in the Thorax journal for health professionals in respiratory medicine this month, should act as a wake-up call for governments to restrict the use of harmful agricultural pesticides as a matter of urgency.