A recent study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health reportedly claims that children exposed to pesticides known as organophosphates could have a higher risk of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and urges parents to always wash produce thoroughly.
Pesticides’ breakdown products in children’s urine was tracked by researchers. Children found with high levels were almost twice as likely to develop ADHD as those with undetectable levels.
The results are based on data from the general U.S. population, meaning that pesticide exposure may be harmful at levels that are commonly found in children’s environment.
Organophosphates originally developed for chemical warfare
Originally, organophosphates were developed for chemical warfare and are known to be toxic to the human nervous system.
Harvard School of Public Health researchers wrote in the journal Pediatrics that there are about 40 organophosphate pesticides such as malathion registered in the U.S.
It’s not fully understood exactly how, but the compounds found in some pesticides have been linked to behavioral symptoms like impulsivity and attention problems that are common to ADHD.
The researchers had no way of determining the source of the breakdown products they found, but said the most likely culprits were pesticides and insecticides used indoors and on produce.
Produce should be thoroughly washed before being consumed
1,139 children between the ages of 8 and 15 years were sampled by the researchers. Interviews were conducted with the children’s mothers or caretakers. About 1 in 10 met the criteria for ADHD.
After accounting for factors such as gender, age and race, the researchers reportedly found the odds of having ADHD rose with the level of pesticide breakdown products.
The odds of ADHD increased by more than half for a 10-fold increase in one class of the compounds. For the most common breakdown products — called dimethyl triophosphate — the odds of ADHD almost doubled in kids with above-average levels compared to kids with no detectable levels.
More studies are needed, especially following exposure levels over time, before contemplating a ban on the pesticides, but researchers urged parents to be aware of what insecticides were being used around the house, and to thoroughly wash produce before it is consumed.
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