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Extramural Research

Center for Child Environmental Health Risks Research - University of Washington

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    Previous Center Grants


Center Director: Elaine Faustman

Project 1: Community Based Participatory Research (CBPR) Project
How does children’s exposure to pesticides vary with season, agricultural practices and geographical proximity?

Project 2: Pesticide Exposure Pathways Project
How best to estimate potential pesticide exposures beyond the fields where they are applied?

Project 3: Molecular Mechanisms Research Project
How does exposure to pesticides affect the developing nervous system?

Project 4: Genetic Susceptibility Research Project
Why are some children more susceptible than others to the harmful effects of pesticides?


Children living in agricultural areas face increased health risks due to exposure to pesticides sprayed on fields that can drift toward homes and schools.  They may also ingest pesticides through food or drinking water.  Children of farm workers are at higher risk since their parents may bring pesticides home in the car and on their clothing. This center aims to understand why some children are more susceptible than others to the harmful effects of pesticides and are trying to identify how this susceptibility affects growth, development and learning.  Researchers are studying how age, genetic and environmental factors can affect children’s susceptibility.  Areas of study include toxicology, exposure assessment and community intervention. Working with agricultural communities in the Yakima Valley of central Washington, the center aims to incorporate findings on pesticide toxicity and exposure into its risk assessment models to identify ways to help protect children's health. Through partnering with local communities, researchers at this center offer parents solutions in protecting their children from pesticide exposure and the possible harmful health effects.

Environmental Exposures and Health Outcomes

Primary Environmental Exposures:  Agricultural pesticides.
Primary Health Outcomes:  Children’s neurodevelopment, genetic susceptibility to harmful effects from exposure to agricultural pesticides

Research Projects

Study areas in the Yakima Valley
Study areas in the Yakima Valley.
Green area: CBPR Research Project.
Shaded area: Pesticide Pathways Project.

Project 1: Community Based Participatory Research (CBPR) Project
This project builds on a 10-year study of pesticide exposure among children of farm workers in the Yakima Valley and investigates the multiple pathways that may contribute to potential pesticide exposure in adults and children living in agricultural communities. The CBPR project is looking at how pesticide exposure can vary with season, agricultural practices and geographical proximity. Additionally, researchers examine the relationship of these exposures to children’s health using biomarkers of exposure, susceptibility, response and effect. Researchers are also working to understand the contributions of genetic differences to susceptibility and how environmental exposures influence gene expression. Results of this project could be highly relevant for families and children living in most agricultural regions in the U.S. where four calendar seasons exist, such as the Northeast and Pacific Northwest.

Project Leader: Engelberta Thompson, Ph.D., University of Washington

Project 2: Pesticide Exposure Pathways Project
This research project is designed to determine how sprayed pesticides, involving multiple applications, crops, weather patterns, human activities and other variables, can go beyond agricultural fields to affect local residents in the Yakima Valley region of Washington State. The project aims to identify factors that influence the type and amount of potential pesticide exposure that occurs across the local community. Researchers are using innovative methods to assess pesticide exposures resulting from spray drift. The goal is to identify and develop best practices for farmers using pesticides and help the community better understand why and how to reduce children’s exposure to these chemicals.

Project Leader: Michael Yost, Ph.D., University of Washington

Project 3: Molecular Mechanisms Research Project
This project is looking to discover how exposure to organophosphate pesticides can affect children’s nervous system development using mouse and cell models. Researchers are looking to increase the ability to detect whether a person has been exposed to pesticides and how pesticides interact with a person’s genes to cause health problems. This project is examining the mechanisms of neurotoxicity on the molecular level for pesticides and chemicals that inhibit the action of acetylcholinesterase (AChE), an enzyme which is essential to proper nerve function. The research is also looking to characterize and understand why there are certain time periods when children are more susceptible to adverse effects from environmental exposures, often termed “windows of susceptibility.” The results can be useful in developing methods of assessing risk from pesticide exposure across developmental periods and in humans as well.

Project Leaders: Lucio Costa, Pharm.D., and Elaine M. Faustman, Ph.D., University of Washington

Project 4: Genetic Susceptibility Research Project
This project addresses a second issue of susceptibility. Researchers are developing methods for assessing potential pesticide exposures by characterizing specific biomarker proteins in blood, and making use of these more accurate measures of exposure to investigate gene-environment interactions. These methods can lead to better ways of assessing risk from exposure to pesticides in children and help identify ways to deal with the exposures.

Project Leaders: Clement Furlong, Ph.D., and Lucio Costa, Pharm.D., University of Washington

Work in the Center is organized around the “V-diagram” which connects occurrence of disease to the original source of the problem. From this it is apparent that there are intermediate steps along the way to develop strategies to prevent that exposure and to understand the mechanisms by which such exposures can lead to adverse health outcomes in children. The CBPR Project focuses on how to prevent pesticides from being transported from the fields to the home. DNA sampling will help identify the genetic mechanisms relating dose to early health effects. Statistical analyses link the components together.

Community Partners

Men working in an apple orchard The CHC is partnered with investigators at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and community members in the Yakima Valley to establish a rigorous, multi-disciplinary research Center that has actively involved community partners. The Community Advisory Board (CAB) was formed under the original Community Intervention Study and has representation from all the major players in pesticide issues in the Valley such as governmental agencies, farmworkers, labor unions, growers, farmworkers clinics and Spanish language media. Specifically, CAB participants include members of the following organizations: the Farm Workers Union Exit EPA Click for Disclaimer; the Growers' Association Exit EPA Click for Disclaimer; the Washington State Department of Health and Department of Agriculture; the Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinics Exit EPA Click for Disclaimer; the local Spanish radio station (Radio KDNA Exit EPA Click for Disclaimer); Washington State Department of Labor and Industries; Columbia Legal Services Exit EPA Click for Disclaimer; and the local office of the Environmental Protection Agency. The CBPR has also enlisted local organizations such as the Farm Workers Union, the Washington State Migrant Council Exit EPA Click for Disclaimer and the Growers' Association to help in outreach. The CAB has worked in an equal partnership with the researchers to design the CBPR study, form research questions, hire employees, and recruit participants.

The Center has been a catalyst for growth in building institutional and community capacity to disseminate results relevant to children's environmental health to clinicians, public health professionals and community members. Activities include: collaborating with our partners to train a new generation of scientists in children's environmental health sciences; conducting regional, national and international outreach and translation activities directed to clinicians, public health professionals and community members; presenting at scientific conferences; and publishing out work.

Previously Funded Projects

University of Washington Center for Child Environmental Health Risks Research


Publications: (2003 - 2008)

Centers Funded By:
Centers Funded by Epa and NIEHS

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