Farmworkers Suffer a Disproportionate Burden

Three new studies published in the Journal of Environmental Health Perspectives  last week, have shown how dangerous pesticides can be for the neurological development of children. All three studies, which were funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), found that the pregnant women enrolled in the studies with more pesticide metabolites in their blood and urine samples, gave birth to children who had lower IQ scores at school age.

Two of the studies, conducted by researchers at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Columbia University, studied urban families in New York. The third study, which was conducted by the University of California Berkeley, focused on an agricultural area in the Salinas Valley in California. The children from the Salinas Valley study whose mothers had more pesticide metabolites in their system, scored 7 points lower on intelligence tests, when compared to the control group. The scientists even accounted for other factors that could explain the IQ outcome, such as education level of the mother, home environment, and attention disorders, yet the results remained the same. From the findings, it appears that farmworker families continue to suffer a disproportionate burden of pesticide exposure. This is especially clear in this study, when examining the pesticide cholyprifos, which has been banned for indoor use since 2001 (shortly after these studies began), but is still widely used in agricultural settings, putting farmworker families at risk.

These studies are important not only because they have linked pesticide exposure to developmental problems, but also because they are the first studies about this topic that followed health outcomes over ten years. While agricultural families had the worst outcomes, urban families who are exposed to dangerous chemicals through their environments and the food they eat also had significantly lower test scores on intelligence tests. This is very disturbing because it shows many families, not just those in farmworker communities, are in danger of suffering negative health outcomes as a result of pesticide exposure.

For more information on the effects of pesticides on children’s health, please read our annual publication, Dangerous Exposure: Farmworker Children and Pesticides.

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