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Daily News Blog

09
Mar

Prenatal Pesticide Exposure Threatens Children’s Language Development at 18 Months after Birth, Study Finds

(Beyond Pesticides, March 9, 2023) A study published in Environmental Research finds exposure to organophosphate (OP) compounds during pregnancy, or prenatal OP exposure can cause shortfalls in language development abilities at 18 months, stifling preschool-age language expression. Additionally, a timely and co-occurring study published in Environmental International confirms similar results, highlighting that chlorpyrifos (an organophosphate) impedes neurological and psychological development, including language communication and all motor skills of offspring at 12 and 18 months old. Prenatal development is one of the most vulnerable periods of exposure, as the fetus is most susceptible to the harmful effects of chemical contaminants. Many studies indicate that prenatal and early-life exposure to environmental toxicants increases susceptibility to diseases, from learning and developmental disabilities to cancer. Given research links to pesticide exposure and neurological and cognitive development, studies like this can help government and health officials identify how pesticides’ impact on the brain elevates health concerns. The Environmental Research authors note, “The etiology [cause] of language development is complex, and this work further highlights the importance of the prenatal environment as a mechanism of influence that are associated with deficits in early language acquisition and ability, which could signal increased behavioral problems and academic difficulties in later childhood that extend into adolescence.”

The study in Environmental Research includes 299 mother-child groups from Norway. Researchers examined chemical exposure in pregnant mothers during gestation week 17 and accessed the related language skills of children at 18 months of age and pre-school age (~4-6 years old). Parents and teachers report the child’s language ability and apply it to structural equation models. Prenatal exposure to OP pesticides has a negative correlation with language ability in both 18 months and preschool-aged children. The results published in Environmental International mirror those of the Norwegian study as researchers assessing neuropsychological development in 12-month and 18-month-old children find the stages of communication and motor skills among children are underdeveloped relative to age.

Pesticide use is widespread and direct exposure from applications or indirect exposure from residues threatens human health. Children are more vulnerable to the impact of pesticides as their bodies are still developing. Many studies indicate prenatal and early-life exposure to environmental toxicants increases susceptibility to disease. A 2020 study finds the first few weeks of pregnancy are the most vulnerable periods during which prenatal pesticide exposure can increase disease risk. A pregnant mother’s exposure to environmental toxicants can increase the likelihood of developmental disabilities, as most developmental disabilities begin before birth. Many studies link childhood pesticide exposure to lower IQ, but prenatal pesticide exposure even more so. Moreover, women living near areas of high toxic chemical use have an increased risk of birthing a baby with cognitive function, like Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Even many long-banned pesticides still cause adverse effects to human health. Researchers at Drexel University report that higher levels of some organochlorine compounds, like DDT, during pregnancy are associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and intellectual disability (ID).

Both studies add to the growing evidence of the impacts chemical exposure during pregnancy has on offspring health, specifically neurological development. Additionally, these studies highlight that early childhood developmental pathways are significant for future health. The findings around OP exposure and delayed communication skills are not new. Research underscores one of the mechanisms that allows chemical contamination in a mother’s body to affect the fetus. In blood and umbilical cord samples, pregnant women already have over 100 detectable chemicals, and studies find pesticide compounds present in the mother’s blood can transfer to the fetus via the umbilical cord. Like these studies, other studies demonstrate that exposure to pesticides, such as organophosphate insecticides like chlorpyrifos, have endocrine disruption properties that induce neurotoxicity via acetylcholinesterase (AChE) inhibition. The number of children with neurodevelopmental disabilities is increasing in the U.S., and many children in rural areas—where pesticide use is most prevalent—have a higher rate of neurological disabilities. Therefore, it is essential to effectively monitor and assess pesticide exposure for the sake of human health.

There is a strong consensus among pediatricians that pregnant mothers and young children should avoid pesticide exposure during critical windows of development. Similarly, the general population is at elevated health risk should from pesticide exposure. Fortunately, the wide availability of non-pesticidal and nontoxic alternative strategies gives residential and agricultural management safer choices to establish a safe and healthy environment, especially among chemically vulnerable individuals. For instance, buyinggrowing, and supporting organic land management reduces human and environmental contamination from pesticides. Organic agriculture has many health and environmental benefits, which curtail the need for chemical-intensive agricultural practices. Numerous studies find that pesticide metabolite levels in urine significantly decrease when switching to an all-organic diet. For more information on how organic is the right choice for consumers and the farmworkers that grow our food, see the Beyond Pesticides webpage on the Health Benefits of Organic Agriculture.

Beyond Pesticides tracks the most recent studies on pesticide exposure through the Pesticide Induced Diseases Database (PIDD). This database supports the need for strategic action to shift away from pesticide dependency. For more information on the multiple harms of pesticide exposure, see PIDD pages on learning/developmental disordersBirth/Fetal EffectsSexual and Reproductive DysfunctionBody Burdens, and other diseases. Additionally, learn more about the hazards to children’s health through Beyond Pesticide’s Pesticides and You Journal article, “Children and Pesticides Don’t Mix.”

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

Source: Environmental ResearchEnvironmental International

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