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Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health finds Pesticide Chlorpyrifos Is Linked to Childhood Developmental Delays
Exposure to the pesticide chlorpyrifos—which is banned for use in U.S. households but is still widely used throughout the agricultural industry—is associated with early childhood developmental delays, according to a study by researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. Findings of the study, “Chlorpyrifos Exposure and Urban Residential Environment Characteristics as Determinants of Early Childhood Neurodevelopment,” are online in the American Journal of Public Health.
The study examined the association between exposure to the pesticide and mental and physical impairments in children in low-income areas of New York City neighborhoods in the South Bronx and Northern Manhattan. Chlorpyrifos was commonly used in these neighborhoods until it was banned for household use by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2001. It is still used as an agricultural pesticide on fruits and vegetables. The EPA registration of chlorpyrifos for agricultural use is currently under review, with a public comment period scheduled for the coming months.
This study shows that there is a clear-cut association between this chemical and delayed mental and motor skill development in children even when there are other potentially harmful environmental factors present.
The research indicates that high chlorpyrifos exposure (greater than 6.17 pg/g in umbilical cord blood at the time of birth) was associated with a 6.5-point decrease in the Psychomotor Development Index score and a 3.3-point decrease in the Mental Development Index score in 3-year-olds.
Young children have greater exposure to pesticides than adults, since they tend to play on the floor or in the grass—areas where pesticides are commonly applied—and to place their hands and objects in their mouths. Pregnant women exposed to pesticides can also expose their unborn children to the chemicals.
Those who advocate for further restrictions on the use of pesticides, including chlorpyrifos, contend that such chemicals drift from treated agricultural fields to nearby yards, homes and schools, placing pregnant women and children at risk.
The research was conducted with the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health, a center funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the Environmental Protection Agency. Mailman School of Public Health co-authors are Virginia Rauh, ScD, Frederica Perera, DrPH, Howard Andrews, PhD, Robin Garfinkel, PhD, Lori Hoepner, MPH, Robin Whyatt, DrPH, and Andrew Rundle, DrPH, and James Quinn, MA, Columbia University’s Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy.