An expert panel of toxicologists has published a paper saying that a class of pesticides called organophosphates (OPs) poses significant health risks for children.
They say the chemicals increase the risk of reduced IQs, memory and attention deficits, and autism for prenatal children.
“We have compelling evidence from dozens of human studies that exposures of pregnant women to very low levels of organophosphate pesticides put children and fetuses at risk for developmental problems that may last a lifetime,” said Irva Hertz-Picciotto, the paper’s lead author and director of the UC Davis environmental health sciences center.
More than 10,000 tonnes of OP pesticides are sprayed in 24 European countries each year and usage is higher in the US, according to The Guardian.
“By law, the EPA cannot ignore such clear findings: It’s time for a ban not just on chlorpyrifos, but all organophosphate pesticides.”
In the U.S., the government is currently appealing against a federal court ban on chlorpyrifos, one of the most popular agricultural insecticides.
While cross-referencing data, the scientists say they discovered that U.S. regulators had already quietly banned 26 out of 40 OP pesticides considered hazardous to human health, while in Europe the figures are 33 out of 39.
Bruce Lanphear, one of the paper’s co-authors and a scientist at Vancouver’s Simon Fraser University, said that they found no evidence of a safe level of organophosphate pesticide exposure for children.
“Well before birth, organophosphate pesticides are disrupting the brain in its earliest stages, putting them on track for difficulties in learning, memory, and attention, effects which may not appear until they reach school-age. Government officials around the world need to listen to science, not chemical lobbyists,” he said.
Organophosphates, which were developed in the 1930s and 40s for use in nerve gas agents like with sarin. are known to lead to acute poisoning, The Guardian reported.
Regarding the decreased IQs among children that the OPs could trigger, the researchers said that it “would probably not have a huge impact” on them as it would be of five to six points.
However, they emphasized that “the problem is that when you have an exposure as ubiquitous as this, you get distributional shifts in IQ, with fewer people in the brilliant range and more in the lower ranges of IQ.”
“That can have a very substantial economic impact on societies in terms of the ruined potential of children’s abilities,” said Prof Robin Whyatt of Columbia University’s Center for Children’s Environmental Health in New York, one of the report’s co-authors.