Pregnant moms exposed to a common insecticide used in farming could give birth to children who go on to develop brain damage years later, according to a new study published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The chemical in question is chlorpyrifos, an organophosphate insecticide that was banned for residential use in 2001, but still remains a go-to chemical in nonorganic farming. It kills bugs by disrupting brain function and could be doing the same in America's children.
Previous studies have linked exposure to organophosphate pesticides to low IQ in kids, autism, ADHD, and the most common form of childhood leukemia. But the latest study is the first to use actual brain scans to show brain damage linked to higher prenatal exposures of the common organophosphate insecticide chlorpyrifos.
In the study, researchers used umbilical-cord blood samples to determine a child's prenatal insecticide exposure, and then performed brain scans on two groups of those children years later when they were in elementary school. One group experienced high exposure to chlorpyrifos during pregnancy, while the other suffered little exposure to the chemical.
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The scans were used to look at areas in the brain that deal with higher brain functioning, attention, language, and emotions. Researchers discovered that children with the highest chlorpyrifos insecticide exposure in utero were more likely to have abnormal-size brains and uncharacteristic changes in those regions.
According to United States Department of Agriculture pesticide residue testing, about 30 percent of nonorganic apples contain the harmful insecticide, while 57 percent of imported, nonorganic bell peppers contain concerning levels of the neurotoxin.
This research is the latest in a string of studies that suggest eating organic could help protect children from diseases linked to farming chemicals.