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Prenatal Exposure to Insecticide Impedes Development, Say CU Researchers

Dr. Virginia Rauh
Dr. Virginia Rauh, Co-Deputy Director of the CCCEH and lead author of the study.

Children exposed to the insecticide chlorpyrifos while in utero demonstrated poorer mental and motor development by the age of three as well as a greater risk for behavioral problems, according to a just-published study co-authored by Columbia University researchers.

Chlorpyrifos, which was banned for U.S. residential use in 2001, is still widely applied to agricultural crops in the United States and abroad, including many fruits and vegetables. According to the report, "Before the ban, residential use of chlorpyrifos was particularly heavy in New York City. For example, during 1997, the amount of the insecticide applied by licensed applicators in New York City exceeded the amount applied in any other county in New York State, including agricultural communities."

Scientists assessed the development of about 250 inner-city children from New York City who were born between 1998 and 2002. The study, written by researchers from the Columbia Center for Children's Environmental Health at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health and from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is the first to reveal a link between neurobehavioral deficits and exposure to the agricultural insecticide.

"These findings indicate that prenatal exposure to the insecticide chlorpyrifos not only increases the likelihood of developmental delay, but may have long-term consequences for social adjustment and academic achievement," said the study's lead author and investigator, Virginia Rauh, associate professor of clinical population and family health at Columbia.

The study is part of a broader multi-year research project started in 1998, which examines the exposure of pregnant women and babies to indoor and outdoor air pollutants, pesticides and allergens. Prior research findings have shown that prenatal chlorpyrifos exposure can reduce birth weight and length.

The research has also shown that the residential ban on chlorpyrifos use by the Environmental Protection Agency has been effective at reducing blood levels of the insecticide.

"Prior to the ban, chlorpyrifos was one of the most widely used insecticides for residential pest control across the United States," said Robin Whyatt, senior author on the study and associate professor of clinical environmental health sciences.

She added, "Despite a recent regulatory ban on residential use of chlorpyrifos in the U.S., agricultural applications continue in the U.S. and abroad."

The new peer-reviewed study, published by the American Academy of Pediatrics in its journal Pediatrics, is available online at http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/abstract/peds.2006-0338.


Published: Dec 11, 2006
Last modified: Nov 14, 2007