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  Life   Health  12 Nov 2018  Prenatal exposure to insecticides can affect mental health of children

Prenatal exposure to insecticides can affect mental health of children

Published : Nov 12, 2018, 11:35 am IST
Updated : Nov 12, 2018, 11:35 am IST

Despite growing evidence of harm, many organophosphates remain in use.

Representational Image. (Photo: Pixabay)
 Representational Image. (Photo: Pixabay)

Washington D.C. - According to a recent study, prenatal exposure to widely-used insecticides, known as organophosphates, puts children at a risk of neurodevelopmental disorders.

In the wake of the findings, which were published in PLOS Medicine, researchers have called for immediate government intervention to phase out all organophosphates.

"There is compelling evidence that exposure of pregnant women to very low levels of organophosphate pesticides is associated with lower IQs and difficulties with learning, memory or attention in their children," said Irva Hertz-Picciotto, lead author of the study. "Although a single organophosphate, chlorpyrifos, has been in the national spotlight, our review implicates the entire class of these compounds," he added.

Originally developed as nerve gases and weapons of war, organophosphates today are used to control insects at farms, golf courses, shopping malls, and schools. They kill pests by blocking nerve signaling.

People can come into contact with these chemicals through the food they eat, the water they drink and the air they breathe. As a result, organophosphate pesticides are detected in the vast majority of U.S. residents, according to Hertz-Picciotto.

While existing limits on organophosphates have reduced exposures, the review authors said this isn't enough. Based on more than 30 epidemiologic studies and scores of experimental studies in animals and cell cultures, they believe the evidence is clear: exposure to organophosphates before birth, even at levels currently considered safe, is associated with poorer cognitive, behavioral and social development.

"It should be no surprise that studies confirm that these chemicals alter brain development since they were originally designed to adversely affect the central nervous system," Hertz-Picciotto said.

Despite growing evidence of harm and recommendations from scientific advisors to and scientists within the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, many organophosphates remain in use. This may be in part because low-level, ongoing exposures typically don't cause visible, short-term clinical symptoms, leading to the incorrect assumption that these exposures are inconsequential, according to Hertz-Picciotto.

"Acute poisoning is tragic, of course, however the studies we reviewed suggest that the effects of chronic, low-level exposures on brain functioning persist through childhood and into adolescence and may be lifelong, which also is tragic," Hertz-Picciotto explained.

Tags: insecticides, mental health, organophosphates