Tuesday, August 16, 2022


Study looks for pesticide exposure and brain development
Researchers at the University of North Dakota want to know if pesticide exposure affects children's brains. The scientists say it's the first study to look for a possible link between pesticides and children's brain development. Half of the kids in the study live on farms, the other half do not.

Moorhead, Minn. — Experts in toxicology hypothesize about the effects of pesticides on children's brains. Some think pesticide exposure might be a factor in learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder and a host of other neurological and cognitive disorders.

But University of North Dakota researcher Pat Moulton says there's been little or no scientific research of the link between pesticides and children's brain development.

"I found it rather scary actually," said Moulton. "When we looked at the literature it was like, 'Well, shouldn't somebody already have looked at this before?' There really isn't anything, especially if you look at learning and cognitive ability."

Moulton says she's found only one study of pesticides in children, and that was done in Mexico.

Do things happen when they're exposed to pesticides? We hope our study provides some information in that area.
- UND psychology professor Tom Petros

The other principal investigator is Tom Petros a UND psychology professor. Petros and Moulton received a grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

They're studying 128 children ages 7 to 12. Half of the kids live on or next to a farm and the other half live at least a mile from a farm.

Tom Petros says children age 7 to 12 are at a higher risk from chemical exposure.

"The brain continues to develop all the way through the early years, when they're 8 or 9 and up to puberty," said Petros. "There's a lot of specialized functions happening then, so they're at a higher risk. Do things happen when they're exposed to pesticides? We hope our study provides some information in that area."

This study will not provide a clear answer to the question of how pesticide exposure affects a child's brain. At most, it might show a relationship between pesticide and brain function. That could lead to more specific studies.

A blood and urine sample from each of the 128 children will be tested at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta for 18 of the most commonly used pesticides.

The test will show a snapshot of pesticides in the childrens blood this summer. It won't necessarily prove long term exposure, because pesticides break down in the bloodstream at different rates.

The children will also undergo a battery of cognitive and motor skill testing. Those test results will be compared with the results of the pesticide screening.

Tom Petros says by testing a large number of children and collecting a great deal of data, the study is designed to have a high degree of confidence in the results. Researchers Petros and Moulton say they weren't sure how people in the Red River Valley would react to a study that might show problems with the use of farm pesticides. But they've been somewhat surprised by the response.

"Farm families have been participating, they're very interested," said Petros. "We've had moms tell us they've been worried about this, they want to know and they're very interested in the results."

Moulton's concerns were somewhat the same, but she wondered whether anyone would even want to participate. "When we designed the study I was worried," she said. "I do primarily recruitment, so I figured I would get some phone calls from people who weren't very supportive of the study, but that hasn't happened. I've had parents call me and say, 'You know, we keep having this plane fly over our house and it keeps spraying chemicals on us and I've always wondered.'"

The researchers expect to have preliminary results of the study by January. More pesticide studies are planned. UND recently received a $500,000 grant from the U.S Department of Health and Human services to study potential links between pesticides and neurological diseases.