Prenatal exposure to a common pesticide has been linked to brain changes, according to an emerging study
The pesticide, chlorpyrifos, which was banned in 2001 by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for residential use, is still allowed for use on crops and can be sprayed in public places, said WebMD. In 2007, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) petitioned the EPA to ban chlorpyrifos in agricultural use; the EPA is reviewing chlorpyrifos use in agriculture.
Children with high exposure to chlorpyrifos suffered abnormalities in the outer area of the brain, known as the cortex, versus children with low prenatal exposure, Virginia Rauh, ScD, professor and deputy director of the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, told WebMD. “The cortex helps govern intelligence, personality, muscle movement, and other tasks,” WebMD explained.
“In areas of the cortex, we detected both enlarged and reduced volumes that were significantly different from the normal brain,” Rauh added. “This suggests the process of normal brain development has been disturbed in some way,” she explained to WebMD. The study appears in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences’ Early Edition.
Rauh’s team selected 40 children from a group of 369, following them from birth. The children were born between 1998-2001, before the household-use ban went into effect, said WebMD. Rauh sent the babies’ umbilical cord blood samples to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) where the pesticide levels were analyzed.
Of the 40 children selected, 20 had high prenatal exposure and, 20, low prenatal exposure. Rauh took MRIs of the children’s brains when they were six-11 years of age, said WebMD. While there was no difference in overall brain size between the two groups, the high-exposure group had enlargements in many areas and reduced volumes in other areas of the brain, said WebMD. Rauh noted that these findings mirrored those from animal studies.
Rauh’s prior studies revealed links between high pesticide exposure levels with reduced IQ and reduced working memory in children, said WebMD, which explained that the pesticide blocks an enzyme needed by pests, and people, for proper nerve functioning and belongs to a class of pesticides known as organophosphates. Symptoms of chlorpyrifos poisoning include nausea, dizziness, and confusion and can include respiratory muscle control loss and death, said the NRDC.
We’ve long written about links between pesticides and long-lasting, serious health effects. For instance, many experts believe that autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) could be due to environmental exposures and critics have blamed pesticides, among other factors. We also just wrote that a new study found an association with glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup, and Parkinson’s disease and Parkinson’s-related brain disorders.
We also previously wrote that over the past several years, the agricultural pesticide paraquat has been linked to Parkinson’s disease, posing a risk not just to agricultural workers who toil in fields where the pesticide has been sprayed, but to the people who live in the vicinity of those fields.