Pesticide Exposure During Pregnancy Linked to Brain Problems: Study

New research suggests that there could be a link between child brain anomalies and exposure during pregnancy to a common form of pesticide, which has been banned in homes but is still used on farms and golf courses across the United States. 

According to a study published in the April 30 edition of Proceedings of the National  Academy of Sciences, U.S. researchers examined the risk of prenatal exposure to a class of organophosphate insecticides known as chlorpyrifos (CPF), finding a correlation between exposure to high levels of the chemical in the womb and abnormal brain growths.

Researchers looked at 40 children, 20 of whom were born to mothers who had high exposure to CPF and 20 who had low levels of exposure. The levels of exposure were measured by testing umbilical cord blood.

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Children who had high levels of CPF exposure were found to be more likely to have enlarged sections of the right hemisphere of the brain. The enlarged sections of the brain could be harmful to developing children and may be tied to some gender abnormalities.

The high CPF exposure children also had brain regions that failed to show expected sex differences in certain parts of the brain and sometimes had brain features that were typically found in the opposite gender, according to the findings.

CPF is not used in homes, but it is used to spray golf courses, Christmas tree farms and is even used to keep insects from nesting on highway dividers. It is also heavily used on corn crops and fruit, which is the most likely vector of exposure to pregnant mothers.

While the study found no causal link between the abnormal brain growths and pesticide exposure, they determined that there was a “significant association” between the pesticide and structural changes in the developing human brain.

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