Weaker breaths in kids linked to early pesticide exposure

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Weaker breaths in kids linked to early pesticide exposure


A new study has linked the levels of organophosphate
pesticide metabolites in the urine of 279 children living in California’s
Salinas Valley with decreased lung function. Each tenfold increase in
concentrations of organophosphate metabolites was associated with a
159-milliliter decrease in lung function, or about 8 percent less air, on
average, when blowing out a candle. The magnitude of this decrease is similar
to a child’s secondhand smoke exposure from his or her mother.


The findings, to be published in the journal Thorax,
are the first to link chronic, low-level exposures to organophosphate
pesticides — chemicals that target the nervous system — to lung health for


“Researchers have described breathing problems in
agricultural workers who are exposed to these pesticides, but these new
findings are about children who live in an agricultural area where the
organophosphates are being used,” said study senior author Brenda
Eskenazi, a professor of epidemiology and of maternal and child health.
“This is the first evidence suggesting that children exposed to
organophosphates have poorer lung function.”


The children were part of the Center for the Health
Assessment of Mothers and Children of Salinas (CHAMACOS), a longitudinal study
in which the researchers follow children from the time they are in the womb up
to adolescence.


The researchers collected urine samples five times
throughout the children’s lives, from age 6 months to 5 years, and measured the
levels of organophosphate pesticide metabolites each time. When the children
were 7 years old, they were given a spirometry test to measure the amount of
air they could exhale.


The study accounted for other factors that could affect
the results, such as whether the mothers smoked, air pollution, presence of
mold or pets in the home and proximity to highways.


“The kids in our study with higher pesticide
exposure had lower breathing capacity,” said study lead author Rachel Raanan,
who conducted the research while she was a postdoctoral scholar in Eskenazi’s
lab. “If the reduced lung function persists into adulthood, it could leave
our participants at greater risk of developing respiratory problems like COPD
(chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).”


The study did not examine the pathways for the children’s
exposure to pesticides, but the researchers did recommend that farmworkers
remove their work clothes and shoes before entering their homes. They also
suggested that when nearby fields are being sprayed with pesticides, children
be kept away and, if indoors, windows should be closed. Pesticide exposure can
also be reduced by washing fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating.


“This study adds exposure to organophosphate pesticides
to the growing list of environmental exposures — including air pollution,
indoor cook stove smoke and environmental tobacco smoke — that could be
harmful to the developing lungs of children,” said Raanan. “Given
they are still used worldwide, we believe our findings deserve further


The authors noted that although organophosphate
pesticides are still widely used, most residential uses of organophosphate
pesticides in the United States were phased out in the mid-2000s. In
California, use of organophosphates in agriculture has also declined
significantly from 6.4 million pounds in 2000, when the study began, to 3.5
million pounds in 2013, the year with the most recent pesticide use data. Just
last month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed eliminating all
agricultural uses of chlorpyrifos, one of the most heavily used
organophosphates, and others are also under evaluation, steps that will
continue the trend of declining use.


“Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is an increasing
cause of death around the world,” said study co-author and pulmonary
specialist Dr. John Balmes, a UC Berkeley professor of environmental health
sciences with a joint appointment at the UC San Francisco School of Medicine.
“Since we know that reduced lung function increases the risk for COPD, it
is important to identify and reduce environmental exposures during childhood
that impair breathing capacity.”






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