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Updated on January 5, 2007

Study Links Organophosphate Insecticide Used on Corn With ADHD
(Beyond Pesticides, January 5, 2007)
A recent study published in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, has linked the insecticide chlorpyrifos, which is used on some fruits and vegetables, with delays in learning rates, reduced physical coordination, and behavioral problems in children, especially attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

This new study, done by researchers at Columbia University, looked at infants born between 1998 and 2002, before and right after the ban was put in place. Blood samples showed that 64 percent of the children had chlorpyrifos in their blood. Of these children, there were higher rates of psychomotor and cognitive delays among those exposed to higher levels of the chemical. Additionally, the children that came in contact with higher levels were also more likely to get lower scores on age-specific tests. Perhaps most striking is the relationship between chlorpyrifos and behavioral disorders. The difference between the children not exposed and those that had come in contact with chlorpyrifos reached “statistical significance” according to the report, for both attention problems and ADHD. ADHD is a condition that causes inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. It is estimated that around two million children in the United States have ADHD.

Although chlorpyrifos was outlawed from residential use in 2001, it is still applied intensively on corn, wheat, and soy through a product called Lorsban. In Florida, 41 percent of the corn in 2004 had been treated with chlorpyrifos, according to a report by the National Agriculture Statistical Service. Florida gets most of its sweet corn from Palm Beach County, dubbed the “Sweet Corn Capital of the World.”

A study led by an Emory University researcher found that chlorpyrifos can enter children’s bodies through dietary exposure. By putting a group of children on an organic diet, the amount of organophosphates (including chlorpyrifos) “decreased substantially to non-detectable levels until the conventional diets were re-introduced," says Dr. Chensheng Lu, an assistant professor in the department of environmental and occupational health, Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University. The foods that are treated with chlorpyrifos—corn, wheat, and soy—are used in a variety of processed foods.

Despite these findings, Florida state agriculture officials say those most at risk may be residents and workers living and working near the farms. The chemical can spread from the corn through drift and/or runoff, depending on how it is applied. A study by the Pesticide Action Network found that when applied to apple orchards, the air in the yards of nearby houses was contaminated with unsafe levels of the chemical. It is likely that such results would hold true for cornfields treated with Lorsban as well.

The first restrictions on chlorpyrifos occurred in 1997, after it was sprayed on cereal boxes in 1994 that held children’s cereal. Although it was known not only to be a cholinesterase inhibitor and to cause degenerative lesions of sensory, motor, or reflex nerves, but to also be toxic to bees, birds, mammals, and aquatic life, it was not until 2000 that Dow AgroSciences agreed to stop sales of chlorpyrifos products. Taking effect December 31, 2001, the pesticide was phased out from residential use and specific crops, excluding corn, wheat, and soy.

Source: Palm Beach Post

TAKE ACTION: Consumer demand can send the strongest message to a company. You can tell agribusiness not to use dangerous pesticides by buying organic corn and other vegetables.