Vol. 6, No. 1, 2000 Page 2

Another poverty risk: Do pesticides threaten inner-city children's brains?

Inner-city children are routinely exposed to large quantities of potentially brain-altering pesticides, according to Philip Landrigan and colleagues. The researchers' warning follows several reports implicating excess pesticide exposure as a factor in lea arning and behavioral problems (see related articles, Crime Times, 1999, Vol. 5, No. 3, Page 1 and Crime Times, 1998, Vol. 4, No. 3, Page 1).

Landrigan et al. note that new statewide data for New York "show that very heavy use of pesticides occurs in the inner-city environment." In particular, they note, poor inner-city children are exposed to significant quantities of the organophosphate insec cticide chlorpyrifos, used to kill roaches, fleas, and termites. The researchers say even low doses of chlorpyrifos may alter neurological development, citing a recent study by K. D. Whitney and colleagues which found that low doses of chlorpyrifos given to newborn rats "target the developing brain during the critical period in which cell division is occurring... which may produce eventual cellular, synaptic and behavioral aberrations after repeated or prolonged subtoxic exposures." >And S. M. Chanda and colleagues reported that when they repeatedly exposed pregnant rats to low doses of chlorpyrifos, the rats' offspring exhibited long-term neurochemical and behavioral abnormalities.

In addition, Landrigan et al. say, children living in old, poorly maintained housing are highly likely to be exposed to long-lasting pesticides such as organochlorines, banned decades ago in the United States. In particular, they note, the termite-killer chlordane can remain in homes for up to 35 years. Also of concern, they say, are illegal pesticides common in inner cities, including a highly concentrated preparation of Aldicarb, and "street pesticides" containing methyl parathion.

The researchers say that children are particularly vulnerable to the toxic effects of pesticides because they play on the ground and put their hands in their mouths, and because, pound for pound, they drink more water and eat more food than adults. In add dition, Landrigan et al. say, children's immature metabolic systems are less capable of detoxifying chemicals, and their brains and other organ systems are still developing.

Landrigan and colleagues say the testing of pesticides' possible effects is inadequate, because tests do not routinely require in-depth assessment of effects on the nervous system, "even in the case of neurotoxic pesticides." Moreover, they say, most tests are performed only on adult animals and do not follow animals for a lifetime to see if long-term problems develop, and no testing is required on the possible interactions between chemicals.

The researchers call on government agencies to develop new approaches for evaluating pesticides and using them safely. One study in inner-city Chicago, they note, revealed that pesticide use can be reduced by up to 50% without any reduction in effectivene ess of vermin control.

Noting that inner-city children are also exposed to high levels of lead, to polluted air, and to a high concentration of hazardous waste sites, the researchers say that excess pesticide exposure "must. be viewed as yet another manifestation of the environ nmental injustice that these children suffer."


"Pesticides and inner-city children: exposures, risks, and prevention," Philip J. Landrigan, Luz Claudio, Steven B. Markowitz, Gertrud S. Berkowitz, Barbara L. Brenner, Harry Romero, James G. Wetmur, Thomas D. Matte, Andrea C. Gore, James H. Godbold, and Mary S. Wolff, Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol. 107, Supplement 3, June 1999, pp. 431-437. Address: Philip J. Landrigan, Department of Community and Preventive Medicine, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, 10 East 101st St., Mezzanine Floor, New w York, NY 10029.

Related Article: [2000, Vol. 6] [2005, Vol. 11]

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