Rauh acknowledged that the study doesn't prove a direct cause-and-effect link between the insecticide and the differences in the brains between the children. One possibility is that the mothers of the children had different diets or were exposed to other chemicals in their homes or workplaces, but Rauh said they share one similarity: Most came from a low-income section of Manhattan and almost all were poor.
The findings are worrisome because the differences in brain structure appear to be harmful, she said. "An abnormal enlargement would not necessarily be a good thing."
In addition, there are links between the sizes of parts of the brain and problems with behavior and thinking, she said.
At the moment, Rauh said, she and her colleagues are studying whether they can link exposure to the insecticide to long-lasting changes in behavior in kids at ages 9 and 10.
Dr. Bruce Lanphear, a professor of health sciences who studies environmental risks at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia, praised the study but acknowledged it doesn't prove the insecticide is harmful. However, he said, "even though this paper is not the final word, it builds on existing studies that basically say [author] Rachel Carson was right: Widespread exposure to toxins is likely to cause fairly severe disease."
He asked: "Are we willing to sacrifice our children's brains for profits? That's the choice we're making, whether we know it or not."
Study lead author Rauh said one way to avoid pesticides is to eat organic food, but it's expensive. It's smart to wash produce carefully, she said, and use less-toxic ways to control pests around the house, such as bait traps.
Stephanie Engel, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, put it this way: "The ge
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