|CHICAGO (AP) — A
new analysis of U.S. health data links children's attention-deficit
disorder with exposure to common pesticides used on fruits and
While the study couldn't prove that pesticides used in agriculture
contribute to childhood learning problems, experts said the research is
"I would take it quite seriously," said Virginia Rauh of Columbia
University, who has studied prenatal exposure to pesticides and wasn't
involved in the new study.
More research will be needed to confirm the tie, she said.
Children may be especially prone to the health risks of pesticides
because they're still growing and they may consume more pesticide
residue than adults relative to their body weight.
In the body, pesticides break down into compounds that can be measured
in urine. Almost universally, the study found detectable levels: The
compounds turned up in the urine of 94% of the children.
The kids with higher levels had increased chances of having ADHD,
attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, a common problem that causes
students to have trouble in school. The findings were published Monday
The children may have eaten food treated with pesticides, breathed it
in the air or swallowed it in their drinking water. The study didn't
determine how they were exposed. Experts said it's likely children who
don't live near farms are exposed through what they eat.
"Exposure is practically ubiquitous. We're all exposed," said lead
author Maryse Bouchard of the University of Montreal.
She said people can limit their exposure by eating organic produce.
Frozen blueberries, strawberries and celery had more pesticide residue
than other foods in one government report.
A 2008 Emory University study found that in children who switched to
organically grown fruits and vegetables, urine levels of pesticide
compounds dropped to undetectable or close to undetectable levels.
Because of known dangers of pesticides in humans, the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency limits how much residue can stay on
food. But the new study shows it's possible even tiny, allowable
amounts of pesticide may affect brain chemistry, Rauh said.
The exact causes behind the children's reported ADHD though are
unclear. Any number of factors could have caused the symptoms and the
link with pesticides could be by chance.
The new findings are based on one-time urine samples in 1,139 children
and interviews with their parents to determine which children had ADHD.
The children, ages 8 to 15, took part in a government health survey in
As reported by their parents, about 150 children in the study either
showed the severe inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity
characteristic of ADHD, or were taking drugs to treat it.
The study dealt with one common type of pesticide called
organophosphates. Levels of six pesticide compounds were measured. For
the most frequent compound detected, 20% of the children with
above-average levels had ADHD. In children with no detectable amount in
their urine, 10% had ADHD.
"This is a well conducted study," said Dr. Lynn Goldman of the Johns
Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and a former EPA
Relying on one urine sample for each child, instead of multiple samples
over time, wasn't ideal, Goldman said.
The study provides more evidence that the government should encourage
farmers to switch to organic methods, said Margaret Reeves, senior
scientist with the Pesticide Action Network, an advocacy group that's
been working to end the use of many pesticides.
"It's unpardonable to allow this exposure to continue," Reeves said.
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