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Daily News Blog

05
Oct

Yale Study Links Prenatal Pesticide Exposure to Tremors in Children

(Beyond Pesticides, October 05, 2015) According to a Yale University study, prenatal exposure to the widely used agricultural pesticide chlorpyrifos is linked to tremors — involuntary contraction or twitching of muscles — in childhood. Chlorpyrifos, a broad-spectrum chlorinated organophosphate insecticide also known as Dursban, may also affect the cardiovascular and respiratory systems and is acutely toxic to bees, birds, mammals, and aquatic life.

pregnant-originalThe study, titled Prenatal exposure to the organophosphate pesticide chlorpyrifos and childhood tremor  and published in the journal Neurotoxicology, measured the presence of chlorpyrifos in umbilical cord blood samples in 263 low-income, inner-city minority children. In 2001, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned residential use of chlorpyrifos, which was prominent in urban areas at the time. However, the study participants  —263 minority mothers  and their children, all from low income  communities in New York  City— were assembled in 1997,  before the ban was imposed. In  1997, the initial measure of each  child’s prenatal exposure to CPF  was taken from umbilical cord  blood. The children were then followed until approximately 11 years of age, after which they underwent a neurophysical assessment, which included a short drawing test. Researchers found that compared to all other children, those who had relatively high levels of prenatal chlorpyrifos exposure were significantly more likely to exhibit mild or mild to moderate tremor in one or both arms. The study is just one of many suggesting that pesticide exposure is associated with adverse neuro-developmental issues.

“This is perhaps one of the  only examples in which we can  show that in utero exposure to  these pesticides leads to long-term  health care consequences in  the children,” said Yale senior author  and School of Medicine neurology  professor Elan Louis, MD, to Yale Daily News.    “We’re talking about the  possibility that fetuses exposed to  pesticides through their mother,  while they’re in utero, could have  tremors eight or ten years later.”

Among experts who commented  on Louis’ findings, as well  as Louis himself, there was a general  consensus that this study  points toward a need for the agricultural  industry ”” the main setting  in which chlorpyrifos is found today  ”” to reconsider their use of pesticides.

According to Louis, his next  step is to fully finish assessing the  results of the study. In addition  to taking drawing tests, the children  participating in the study  had MRI scans, which Louis and  his colleagues plan to analyze for  “structural or metabolic changes  in certain brain regions,” to further  investigate the brain damage  caused by chlorpyrifos.

Chlorpyrifos  is highly  neurotoxic. It is a cholinesterase inhibitor, which means that it can bind irreversibly to acetylcholine esterase (AchE), an essential enzyme for normal nerve impulse transmission, inactivating the enzyme. Studies have documented that exposure to even low levels of organophosphates like chlorpyrifos during pregnancy  can impair learning, change brain function, and alter thyroid levels of offspring into adulthood. The evidence of the neurotoxic dangers associated with chlorpyrifos’ exposure is extensive and consistent.

In 2000, EPA administrator  Carol Browner announced  a voluntary agreement between the agency and industry leaders, including Dow AgroSciences, to ban all home and garden uses of Dursban, which was at the time the most widely used household pesticide in the U.S. This agreement, however, did not include agricultural, golf course, or public mosquito spraying uses. It continues to be heavily used today with an estimated 5 million pounds applied in the U.S. annually, releasing its toxins onto our food and into the lives of farmworkers  and their  children.  In 2012, EPA  imposed “no-spray” buffer zones  around public spaces, including recreational areas, schools, and homes to reduce bystander exposure risks. In spite of these restrictions, chlorpyrifos still poses risks to human and environmental health. Earlier this year, a federal appeals court judge mandated that EPA respond to a petition filed nearly nine years ago that seeks  to force the agency to restrict chlorpyrifos. EPA must meet an October 31 deadline and establish a timeline for finalizing the proposed rule if they decide on a ban.

Chlorpyrifos leads a list of numerous toxic chemicals that are central to chemical-intensive agricultural practices that threaten  health and the environment effects. While a ban is  certainly important  as current inaction  reflects a breakdown in the  regulatory process, ultimately the widespread adoption of  organic management  is necessary to protect consumers and the environment in the long-term. Beyond Pesticides has long sought a broad-scale marketplace transition to organic practices that disallows the use of toxic synthetic pesticides by law and encourages a systems-based approach that is protective of health and the environment. Even at its worst, this approach never allows the use of highly toxic synthetic pesticides, let alone organophosphates such as chlorpyrifos, and advances  a  viable, scalable  path forward for growing food.

For more information on chlorpyrifos and other pesticides used in homes, schools, workplaces and communities, see Beyond Pesticides’ Gateway on Pesticide Hazards and Safe Pest Management. For alternatives strategies on specific pest problems, check out ManageSafe.

Source: Yale Daily News

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

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