A newly published study suggests that commonly used pesticides called organophosphates may cause brain damage in children, even in low levels, and pregnant women should avoid exposure in any level.
It’s not news that the daily foods we eat and the products we put on our body and in our homes are chemical-laden. What seemed to be advances in technology and convenience decades ago now seem to be the very things that cause brain damage and other neurological and physical issues in families across the world today.
Now, a new peer-reviewed study published in the PLOS Medicine journal suggests that a class of chemicals that has been widely-used for decades includes as its main ingredient a chemical they believe is not safe in any exposure level. The researchers involved in the study believe that organophosphate pesticides should be phased out entirely, based on their review of all the scientific works that exist about the chemicals.
The researchers found no safe level of exposure to any organophosphate for pregnant women, and that those who are exposed may have babies who have impaired motor and mental skills, memory loss, ADHD and or autism. Jennifer Sass is a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council and a co-author of the study who said that the research team is not confident there is any safe level in the chemicals.
Sadly, the chemicals are widely used. Recently, the Environmental Protection Agency planned to ban the use of chlorpyrifos (in the organophosphate family) in American farms, as they’d already been banned from at-home use since 2000. Scott Pruitt was the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and decided to abandon the plan to ban them. Scientists world-wide were shocked, as was the American Academy of Pediatrics, who wrote to Pruitt and told him the use of the chemical in American farms ‘put all children at risk.’
This August, a federal court ordered the EPA to follow through with plans to ban the chemical; still, the EP is appealing that order.
This new research however strongly urges officials and regulators from the town to federal level in the 71 countries that currently use organophosphates to phase out the use of the chemicals immediately, instead of in piece by piece stages. The pesticides are used just about everywhere–schools, shopping malls, golf courses, and many other public access spaces. They’re used to kill mosquitoes in community sprays and they’re even found in flea and tick medicines for dogs and cats.
Irva Hertz-Picciotto is a co-author of the study and an environmental epidemiologist at the University of California and says that the chemicals need to be banned in agricultural and nonagricultural situations. The paper also recommends that medical schools look to teach medical clinicians about the effects of exposure to such chemicals in their patients, and to advise them as to how they can avoid the chemical exposure altogether.
Even the agrochemical industry says it’s plant medicine and should be used as such–cautiously and with prescription. Alternatives to the organophosphates also have inherent risks as chemicals do, linked to other neurological and developmental issues in children. Neonicotinoids, for example, are the fastest-growing group of insecticides used on US crops and are highly toxic to invertebrates. This includes certain aquatic life and bees.
The EPA has not reviewed the study yet, and according to agency spokesperson Michael Abboud, their priority is to use the best available science as transparently as possible to make decisions for all. Yet, they fight recommendations based on research after research about the effects, as well as medical professionals committed to children, in an effort to continue the use of such toxins.
Sass says she understands the complication in using fewer pesticides, and that the elimination of organophosphates may mean that farmers look into ‘old-school’ growing methods that include crop rotation, physical controls like traps and vacuums, and intercropping. Still, with the dangers posed by these chemicals, it’s got to happen as they do not believe any safe exposure to the organophosphates exists.