A team of researchers at the University of Montreal and Harvard University has published a critical new paper showing that dietary exposure to organophosphate (OP) insecticides increases the risk of children getting attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
The team measured the levels of key OP metabolites in the urine of 1,136 children ages 8 to 15. For each 10-fold increase in OP metabolite levels, the risk of ADHD increased a remarkable 55% to 72%. The effect was even seen at the low end of the exposure curve.
About 4.5 million children suffer from ADHD according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The authors projected that food — especially fruits and vegetables — are the primary source of OP exposures among these children.
The Organic Center has highlighted evidence in a recent report that imported produce accounts for a disproportionate share of OP residues and risk.
TOC research shows that American farmers have made progress reducing OP use and residues over the last decade, while the share of residues and risk in imported produce has risen, in some cases dramatically.
Pregnant women and American children are exposed to two to four OP insecticides during an average day, increasing the risk of neurological, behavioral, reproductive, and immune system health problems, especially exposures during critical stages of development.
The damage does not end in childhood. Exposures to OP insecticides can impair a person’s immune system, increasing the risk of cancer and other health problems later in life, as stressed in the recent President’s Cancer Panel report. Several OP insecticides also trigger changes during fetal development that are consistent with pre-diabetes and the metabolic syndrome, as discussed in detail in our 2009 report “That First Step: Organic Food and a Healthier Future.” Other studies show that OP exposures during pregnancy reduce birth weights and can lead to changes in the size and architecture of an infant’s brain.
The last significant EPA actions to reduce OP insecticide risks through food were taken in 2001 and involved lowering chlorpyrifos tolerances on apples and grapes to 0.01 parts per million, reductions of a 100-fold and 150-fold, respectively.
Many scientists and organizations argued at the time that the EPA should reduce ALL 400-plus remaining OP tolerances to no higher than 0.01 ppm.
The scientific case for this commonsense action has grown immeasurably stronger with the publication of this new study on ADHD and the release of the President’s Cancer Panel report.
Time magazine has covered this research study in an online piece dated May 17, 2010.
MSNBC also covered this study in a piece entitled “Pesticides in kids linked to ADHD, study finds”.
A two-page summary of our 2009 report on reducing pesticide dietary exposures via consumption of organic food is now available.
This article was featured in The Organic Center’s News & Media Section.
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