No one would hand a five-year-old a package of Marlboro Red cigarettes and tell her to smoke up! But that’s what exposing our children to pesticides is like, according to a new study from the Center for the Health Assessment of Mothers and Children of Salinas, CHAMACOS.
Chronic exposure to pesticides is as bad for children’s lungs as secondhand cigarette smoke, which we’ve learned over the years is often worse than first-hand smoke.
Pesticides Hurt Children As Well As Adults
A long-term study of 279 farm-worker children in the Salinas Valley suggests that even being one step removed from pesticides can hurt children’s lungs. Studies have already proved that adult farm workers exposed to pesticides endure detrimental health effects.
Now it seems that their children, who don’t necessarily work on the farm, but live and play where pesticides are sprayed, are in danger, too.
Adults are prone to acute poisoning (20% of the cases) and to “diverse alterations of the digestive, neurological, respiratory, circulatory, dermatological, renal, and reproductive systems” when exposed to organophosphates, triazines, and organochlorine compounds.
In the CHAMACOS study, which was begun over 15 years ago, children followed since birth from 601 different pregnant women also have some very concerning health problems.
Study coauthor Brenda Eskenazi, an epidemiologist at UC Berkeley, said:
“This is really the first time that it’s a residential population, and a residential population of children.”
Other studies have suggested that children exposed to organophosphates, while either in the womb or very young, have diminished reflexes and lower cognitive functioning. Now there is undeniable evidence that these pesticides are stopping our children from even breathing properly.
Correlation Found Between Lung Damage and Pesticides
A significant correlation was found between low exhalation rates — roughly equivalent to about 8 percent less air — and high levels of organophosphate metabolites. The lung function decrease caused by pesticides was similar to that seen in a 1983 study of long-term exposure to secondhand cigarette smoke.
The researchers aren’t entirely sure of how the children are exposed to the pesticides. They can only assume it is through the air, the food the children eat, or other hand-to-mouth behaviors that young children often display.
Half the women in the study had worked in the agricultural fields, and about 84% of the families had at least one adult farm worker, Eskenazi said.
Despite yet another study showing clear associative risks, the American Farm Bureau Federation, a Big Ag industry group, supports continued use of organophosphates, including chlorpyrifos.