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Research Documents Children’s Exposure to Pesticide

Two studies of immigrant farmworker families in North Carolina and Virginia found evidence of pesticide exposure in young children// , and prompted researchers to call for pesticide safety training for workers’ spouses.

In the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, researchers from Wake Forest University School of Medicine report that urine samples from 60 children revealed higher levels of pesticide exposure than had been found in similar studies elsewhere. And, in Health Education & Behavior, they conclude that workers’ spouses need more education to protect their children from exposure.

“Efforts to reduce the exposure of these children to pesticides must be redoubled,” said Thomas Arcury, Ph.D., lead researcher. “While science continues to grapple with the question of ‘how much is too much’ measures need to be taken to minimize exposure.”

In the study of children from six North Carolina counties, urine samples were analyzed for evidence of exposure to organophosphate insecticides, the most widely used pesticides. High levels of exposure can cause coma and death. Long-term exposure at lower levels can increase risk for sterility, birth defects and cancer.

The levels found were higher than those found in other parts of the United States, yet scientists don’t know if they are high enough to cause harm.

“Although research has demonstrated a link between pesticide exposure and health effects, the question of how much exposure over what period of time has not yet been answered,” said Arcury, a professor of family and community medicine. “Because we don’t know how much is safe, we must, as a precaution, assume that no level is safe.”

Generally, the risks of exposure are considered greater to children than adults because of their small size and rapid physical and mental development. The study involved children from ages 1 to 6 years from Duplin, Harnett, Johnston, Sampson, Wake and Wayne counties. <
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