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Protecting the Next Generation

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Organic agriculture minimizes children’s exposure to toxic and persistent pesticides in the soil in which they play, the air they breathe, the water they drink, and the foods they eat. Here are reasons why minimizing exposure to toxic and persistent pesticides is so important:

A recent study of 600 people found that those exposed to pesticides had a 1.6 times greater risk of developing Parkinson’s disease than those who were not. Those who made “heavy use” of pesticides, or who were exposed to them more than 200 days in the course of their lifetime, were found to have over twice the level of risk, suggesting that “there is very strong evidence” linking pesticide use and Parkinson’s disease, according to lead researcher Dana Hancock.
Source: BMC Neurology Journal (
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/7318188.stm), 2008.

A study published in Environmental Health Perspectives found that children who substituted organic fresh fruits and vegetables for their conventional counterparts had lower concentrations of organophosphorus pesticides in their urine. The study, which involved children ages 3-11 and was conducted over four seasons in the Seattle, Washington area, supported findings outlined in the National Research Council’s 1993 study entitled “Pesticides in the Diets of Infants and Children,” indicating that “dietary intake of pesticides represents the major source of exposure for infants and children.”
Source: Environmental Health Perspectives, April 2008.

Study results published in Environmental Health Perspectives found that the sons of women exposed at work to pesticides during pregnancy suffered impaired reproductive development. Specifically, the sons were found to have reduced penile length, testicular volume, and abnormal concentrations of various reproductive hormones. The study also found that female workers who were exposed to pesticides on the job were three times more likely to give birth to sons with cryptorchidism, a condition in which one or both testes are absent from the sctotum, than non-exposed female workers.
Source: Environmental Health Perspectives, April 2008.

According to a study published in the April 2008 issue of Environmental Health Perspectives, children living in regions of intense agricultural activity in the United States face a higher risk of many types of childhood cancer. The risk was found to be highest among children living in counties having 60 percent or more of their total acreage dedicated to farming. The study also revealed that the incidence of certain types of cancer varied by crop type, suggesting a link between cancer type and the use of crop-specific pesticides.
Source: Environmental Health Perspectives, April 2008.

A California Department of Public Health study has concluded that women living near California farm fields that are sprayed with organochlorine pesticides may be more likely to give birth to children with autism spectrum disorders. However, because of the small number of women and children studied, researchers cautioned that this finding is “highly preliminary.”
Source: “Maternal Residence Near Agricultural Pesticide Applications and Autism Spectrum Disorders Among Children in the California Central Valley,” in Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol. 115, No. 10, October 2007.

French research published in Occupational and Environmental Medicine online ifound that agricultural workers with extensive exposure to pesticides had elevated risk of brain cancer. Dr. Isabelle Baldi of the University of Bordeaux and colleagues in France studied 221 adults who developed brain cancer between 1999 and 2001 and 442 adults from the general population of the same age who were free of the disease. The overall risk of brain cancer was 29 percent higher for those with occupational exposure to pesticides. However, farmers, vineyard workers and others with the highest exposure had a two-fold higher risk of developing a brain tumor.
Source: Occupational and Environmental Medicine online, June 2007.

Research published in Environmental Health Perspectives found an association between pre-natal organophosphate pesticide exposure and adverse effects on mental and pervasive development in young Mexican-American children from farmworker families living in the Salinas Valley of California. However, researchers cautioned that there might also have been postnatal exposure as well.
Source: Environmental Health Perspectives, May 2007.

Researchers from Wake Forest University School of Medicine and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who studied immigrant farm worker families in North Carolina and Virginia found evidence of pesticide exposure to their young children. In a study of children from six North Carolina counties, urine samples analyzed for evidence of exposure to organophosphate insecticides revealed levels higher than those found in people in other parts of the United States. As part of the study, mothers were interviewed to learn more about risk factors for exposure. Findings showed that three in five children lived in households in which farm workers did not shower immediately after work, and four in five lived in households where workers changed their clothes in the dwelling.Source: Thomas A. Arcury, Joseph G. Grzywacz, Stephen W. Davis, Dana B. Barr, and Sara A. Quandt in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, posted online, June 27, 2006.

A University of Florida study conducted in Mexico found that adverse results from pesticide exposure can cross generations. In findings published in Environmental Health Perspectives, Elizabeth A. Guillette and colleagues found that the daughters of mothers who lived near areas of heavy agricultural spraying may be unable to nurse their children. Sonoran Mayan girls whose mothers were exposed to chemical spraying did not develop mammary tissue necessary to produce milk, unlike their counterparts whose mothers were not exposed to such chemicals.
Source: Elizabeth A. Guillette and colleagues, in Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol. 114, No. 3, pp. 471-475, March 2006.

A paper in the March 2006 issue of Pediatrics (Vol. 117, No. 3, pp. e546-e556) reports that overuse of pesticides and a lack of protection for female workers in Ecuador’s flower industry are associated with neurological impairment in their children. The authors led by Philippe Grandjean, adjunct professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, concluded that prenatal pesticide exposure may adversely affect brain development and cause lasting neurotoxic damage.
Source: Pediatrics, Vol. 117, No. 3, pp. 3546-e556, March 2006.

A meta-analysis of studies and the literature concerning the environment and cancer conducted by researchers at the University of Liverpool concludes that exposure to even small amounts of environmental contaminants such as pesticides may result in an increased risk of developing cancer, particularly for infants and young adults. Looking at involuntary exposure to chemicals such as organochlorines in the air, food and water, Professor Vyvyan Howard and John Newby recommended that efforts should focus not just on preventative measures such as educating the public about the danger of tobacco smoke, improving diet and promoting physical activity but on trying to reduce exposure to problematic chemicals.
Source: Review article, “Environmental influences in cancer aetiology,” in Journal of Nutritional & Environmental Medicine, 2006.

Research demonstrating the harmful effects of toxic and persistent pesticides dates back many years.

A study to assess preschool children’s organophosphorus pesticide exposure in the Seattle Metropolitan area made an interesting discovery: the only child whose urine contained no measurable pesticide metabolites lives in a family that buys exclusively organic produce and does not use any pesticides at home. In the study conducted by the University of Washington Department of Environmental Health, urine samples were collected from 96 children during the spring and fall. In the study, 83 children had at least one measurable dialkylphosphate (DAP) metabolite in the spring sampling, while 88 had at least one measurable DAP metabolite in the fall sampling. Only 1 child—the one whose parents bought exclusively organic produce--had no metabolites in both samples. Children living in households with a garden had significantly higher diethyl DAP concentrations than those without a garden, and those where garden pesticide use was reported had significantly higher diethyl and dimethyl DAP levels. In fact, there was an association between reported residential pesticide use and elevated DAP metabolite concentrations.
Source: C. Lu, D.E. Knutson, J. Fisker-Andersen, and R.A. Fenske, “Biological Monitoring Survey of Organophosphorus Pesticide Exposure among Preschool Children in the Seattle Metropolitan area,” Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol. 109, No. 3, March 2001, pp. 299-303.

A National Cancer Institute researcher who matched pesticide data and medical records in 10 California agricultural counties reported that pregnant women living within nine miles of farms where pesticides are sprayed on fields may have increased risk of losing an unborn baby to birth defects.
Source: National Coalition against the Misuse of Pesticides Technical Report newsletter, April 2001.

"Exposure to pesticides can cause a range of ill effects in humans, from relatively mild effects such as headaches, fatigue, and nausea, to more serious effects such as cancer and neurological disorders. In 1999, EPA estimated that nationwide there were at least 10,000 to 20,000 physician-diagnosed pesticide illnesses and injuries per year in farm work. Environmental effects are evident in the findings of the U.S. Geological Survey, which reported in 1999 that more than 90 percent of water and fish samples from streams and about 50 percent of all sampled wells contained one or more pesticides. The concern about pesticides in water is especially acute in agricultural areas, where most pesticides are used."
Source: Agricultural Pesticides: Management Improvements Needed to Further Promote Integrated Pest Management, General Accounting Office [GAO-01-815, Page 4, August 2001].

"Our children are born with a deposit of pesticides and other foreign chemicals in their bodies, caused by a shift of maternal pesticide ‘body burden’ through the placenta; after birth, children ‘inherit’ further load through breastfeeding. Pesticides have a cumulative multigenerational destructive impact on human health, especially behavior. Pesticides are a serious threat to the physical, emotional and mental development of children and future generations," according to a report from the Environmental Illness Society of Canada. Presented to the Canadian House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, the report called for a moratorium on pesticide use for cosmetic purposes. It noted: "Once released into the environment, the spread of pesticides cannot be controlled. Radioactively traced pesticides sprayed over in the United Kingdom were detected five to seven days later in the southern USA. Traces of insecticides used in tropical areas were detected in Arctic trees. Global air currents, hurricanes, etc., can transport pesticides and other chemicals even to the other hemisphere." Als "Pesticides and other pollutants can interfere with proper sexual differentiation; they can also cause other birth defects and multigenerational health problems, such as allergies, immunotoxicity, neurotoxicity and cancer in the individual, that individual’s offspring, and subsequent generations." In addition: "A Canadian-USA study detected pesticides in the amniotic fluid in one-third of human pregnancies."
Source: Pesticides: Their Multigenerational Cumulative Destructive Impact on Health, Especially on the Physical, Emotional and Mental Development of Children and of Future Generations—Canadian Government Responsibilities and Opportunities, February 2000, Environmental Illness Society of Canada,

A study, financed by Britain’s Economic and Social Research Council, has concluded that the combination of soil erosion, pollution and inadequate diet is affecting the intelligence of millions of people in the developing world, with effects ranging from severe intellectual disabilities to "sub-clinical decline" in whole populations. The report notes that Green Revolution crops produce several times as much grain as the traditional varieties they replaced, thus dramatically increasing food supplies. However, unlike their predecessors, the new crops fail to take up minerals such as iron and zinc from the soil.
Source: The Environmental Threat to Human Intelligence, by Christopher Williams, a study funded by Britain’s Economic and Social Research Council in its Global Environmental Change Programme, April 24, 2000.

U.S. consumers can experience up to 70 daily exposures to residues from persistent organic pollutants (POPs) through their diets, according to a report from the Pesticide Action Network North America. The use of POPs is not allowed in organic agriculture. The top ten POP-contaminated food items, in alphabetical order, are butter, cantaloupe, cucumbers/pickles, meatloaf, peanuts, popcorn, radishes, spinach, summer squash, and winter squash. The two most pervasive POPs in food are dieldrin and DDE.
Source: Nowhere to Hide: Persistent Toxic Chemicals in the U.S. Food Supply, Pesticide Action Network North America, 2000,

A National Academy of Sciences study suggested that one out of four developmental and behavioral problems in children may be linked to genetic and environmental factors, including exposure to lead, mercury, and organophosphate pesticides.
Source: Scientific Frontiers in Developmental Toxicology and Risk Assessment, National Academy of Sciences, National Academy Press, 2000.

"Government tests show that red raspberries, strawberries, apples, and peaches grown in the United States and cantaloupe from Mexico are the foods most contaminated with pesticides. The fruits least contaminated with pesticides were watermelon, bananas, kiwi, pineapple, and domestically grown cantaloupe. The least contaminated vegetables include corn, onions and peas. Organic is the safest choice of all."
Source: Environmental Working Group press release, Feb. 25, 1999, concerning "How ‘Bout Them Apples? Pesticides in Children’s Food Ten Years After Alar."

"Pesticides pose special concerns to children because of their high metabolisms and low body weights. More than 1 million children between the ages of 1 and 5 ingest at least 15 pesticides every day from fruits and vegetables. More than 600,000 of these children eat a dose of organophosphate insecticides that the federal government considers unsafe, and 61,000 eat doses that exceed benchmark levels by a factor of 10 or more."
Source: Food for Thought: The Case for Reforming Farm Programs to Preserve the Environment and Help Family Farmers, Ranchers and Foresters, pages 12-13,
www.environmentaldefense.org/pubs/Reports. Original source: Environmental Working Group, "Overexposed: Organophosphate Insecticides in Children’s Food," 1998, pp. 1-3.