Picture of Margaret Reeves

Margaret Reeves

EPA talks pesticides & children’s health

EPA recently reviewed the links between mothers’ exposure to pesticides during pregnancy and children's health outcomes, highlighting recent findings in its online newsletter Science Matters. The article, entitled "Mothers Matter: Looking for a Healthy Start," presents the latest science linking prenatal exposure with reduced birth weight and disrupted brain and nervous system development, among other health harms.

It’s very good that EPA is explicitly communicating science, with the implicit intent to change policy. What’s still missing is pesticide use policies that are adequately protective of children’s health. We're hopeful this could be changing.

Despite the 2001 ban on chlorpyrifos use in homes, for example, widespread use of this insecticide in agriculture continues throughout the country posing continuous threat of harm, especially to farmworker children and others in farming communities.

For years PAN and our partners have been calling for a complete ban on use of chlorpyrifos. In July 2012, EPA finally issued a partial response to our 2007 legal petition and imposed some important but still limited restrictions. With baited breath we await the final response, promised for sometime next month.

OPs harm children’s neurological development

Fortunately for the purpose of moving policy, there is an abundance of excellent research linking maternal exposure to organophosphate (OP) pesticides during pregnancy or childhood to problems in development and learning. An April 2011 blog highlighted three studies linking prenatal OP exposures (even at very low levels) to lower IQ, poorer working memory and cognitive impairment in childhood.

More recent studies at Columbia University revealed links between children whose mothers had higher levels of chlorpyrifos exposure and structural changes in their brains that are consistent with lower IQ scores in the exposed children. And boys seem to be impacted more than girls.

We’ve also reported on studies showing that OPs in children’s food associated with greater risk of ADHD. A study just out this morning from the American Academy on Pediatrics confirms these and other findings, and urges government action to reduce children's pesticide exposure.

Pesticide policies to better protect children

Like EPA, PAN recognizes the value of using strong peer-reviewed science to inform public policy. To that end, we recently released the report A Generation in Jeopardy, summarizing the latest science and presenting the following policy recommendations:

  • Create stronger policy tools so enforcement agencies can take swift action to pull existing pesticides off the market and block new pesticides when independent studies suggest they are harmful to children.
  • Increase investment and support for innovative farmers as they transition away from pesticide use.
  • Set and track national pesticide use reduction goals, focusing first on those pesticides that studies show are harmful to children.
  • Withdraw harmful pesticide products from use in homes, daycare centers and schools.
  • Establish pesticide-free zones around schools, daycare centers and neighborhoods in agricultural areas to protect children from harmful exposures, especially pesticide drift.

The report highlights stories from states and communities across the country where innovative policies have already been put in place to protect children from pesticides where they live, learn and play. The discussion is drawing attention.

Health professionals, public health organizations, farmers and community activists around the country are bringing their collective voices to the conversation for greater protections for children. Even EPA regulators requested and received a special debrief of the report.

Is this new dialogue a cause for cautious optimism? Let's hope so.

Picture of Margaret Reeves

Margaret Reeves

Margaret Reeves is a PAN Senior Scientist with expertise in agroecology and soil ecology. As a long-time farmworker advocate, Margaret serves on the Board of the Equitable Food Initiative and works with partners around the country to ensure worker-protective federal and state policy. Follow @MargaretatPAN

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