Pregnant Mom's Pesticide Exposures Raises Child's Risk of ADHD

Researchers see a 500 percent increase in ADHD in children born to mothers with the highest pesticide exposure.

August 23, 2010

A new study finds that pesticides threaten kids even before birth.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—A pregnant mother's pesticide exposure could be more damaging to the child than the child's actual exposure once he or she is born, according to new research. A new study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives found that an expectant mother's exposure to a specific class of pesticides used in food production can increase the child's odds of developing Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) down the line, according to a new study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. This latest study comes on the heels of another study linking pesticides levels commonly found in food to ADHD in kids.

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THE DETAILS: In the new study, researchers looked at pregnant women from the Salinas Valley in California, a region of intense agriculture where more than half a million pounds of pesticides are applied each year. They monitored the women's urine during pregnancy to detect pesticide breakdown components, and then followed up by monitoring children's pesticide levels, screening the kids for ADHD at ages 3 and 5, and interviewing mothers to find out if they reported ADHD symptoms in the kids.

Scientists were particularly looking for exposure to organophosphate pesticides, a class of chemicals that work to disrupt the nervous systems of insects by tampering with neurotransmitters. The neurotransmitters affected by the pesticides include some that are critical for brain development, attention, and memory in humans.

Researchers found that as the amount of organophosphate breakdown materials in the urine of pregnant women increased, so did the chance that the child would score in line with a clinical ADHD diagnosis. In fact, there was a 500-percent increase in attention problems in the 5-year-old children of the women who had had the highest pesticide levels during pregnancy. High levels of urinary pesticides in 5-year-olds correlated to a 30 percent higher chance of ADHD, meaning that prenatal exposure could have even more serious effects than childhood exposure when it comes to attention problems.

Also of note: Researchers discovered that the appearance of ADHD was more prominent when kids hit 5 years old when compared to the incidence at 3 years old, and was more prominent in boys than girls.

WHAT IT MEANS: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has banned residential use of many organophosphate pesticides citing potential risk concerns; however, some are still available for use in home gardens, on ornamental flowers, shrubs, and trees, in addition to home pest strips and some pet products.

Organophosphate chemicals still allowed for home use include:

• Acephate, bensulide, malathion, tetrachlorvinfos, and trichlorfon (can be
used on home lawns and gardens, as well as on golf courses)

• Chlorpyrifos and fenitrothion (ant/roach baits only)

• DDVP pest-strips (for use in closets and storage areas)

• Tetrachlorvinfos (used in some pet collars and sprays)

Here's how to lower your body's organophosphate burden.

• Eat organic! The majority of organophosphate pesticide applications in this country are used to control insect pests in agriculture. An EPA spokesperson told Rodale.com that it is possible for residues to be present on some food products. And, depending on where you live, you may also be exposed through drift and contact with treated surfaces.

Aside from that, imported conventionally grown produce could retain residues of organophosphates that have been banned in this country but are still legal in other countries. Choosing local and organic food is the gold standard, but to keep harmful chemicals out of the environment and your body, if you have to choose between local chemically grown food and out-of-the-area organic, choose organic.

• Question mosquito-abatement programs. Your community's mosquito-abatement programs could involve spraying organophosphates out of an airplane to kill adult mosquitoes. Talk to your local health department or visit the Mosquito Control Association to find out what's used in your area, and if it's an organophosphate, push your town officials to use less toxic larvacide that is also more effective.

• Pick safer pet products. Chemical flea and tick collars are a major no-no. Research published in 2009 found that 60 percent of dogs wearing tetrachloryinfos-infused collars contained chemical levels on their fur that far exceeded the EPA's recommendations for toddler-age exposure. If you have pets, opt for more natural flea and tick control, or at the very least, less-toxic options.

For other pest problems around the house, try our natural solutions for common household pests.

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