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Eating organic food protects children from pesticide exposure

by aseligmann — last modified Jul 20, 2010 12:00 AM

Children who switched to eating organically-grown food greatly reduced their exposure to organophosphate insecticides. Scientists from Seattle and Atlanta just published the results of their study which linked pesticides in children's urine to pesticide residues on food. Scientists worry that organophosphates might harm children's developing nervous systems.

Children who switched to eating organically-grown food greatly reduced their exposure to organophosphate insecticides. Scientists from Seattle and Atlanta just published the results of their study which linked pesticides in children's urine to pesticide residues on food. Scientists worry that organophosphates might harm children's developing nervous systems.

Twenty-three elementary-aged children participated in a 15 day study which was divided into three parts. First the children ate their usual diet of conventionally-grown food for 3 days. Then they were switched to organically-grown substitutes for 5 days. For the final 7 days, they switched back to conventional food.

The organic substitutes were mainly fruits, vegetables, juices, and grain products (such as wheat) because these foods are often contaminated with organophosphates.

Urine samples were collected twice a day for each child. Researchers tested the urine for signs of pesticides.

In the case of two organophosphate insecticides -- malathion and chlorpyrifos -- the results were startling. Signs of these two chemicals were found in the urine in the first part of the study. Almost immediately after the children switched to an organic diet, these chemicals could not be detected. The chemicals showed up again when the children switched back to their normal diet.

The researchers said "We were able to demonstrate that an organic diet provides a dramatic and immediate protective effect against exposures to organophosphorus pesticides that are commonly used in agriculture."

More information on chlorpyrifos

The organophosphate family of chemicals damages the nervous system (which includes the brain), so scientists are particularly concerned about children's exposure because their bodies are still developing. Chlorpyrifos is one of the many insecticides in this chemical family.

In 1999, the Environmental Protection Agency decided to start cancelling some uses of chlorpyrifos, in part because of some disturbing animal studies. For example, newborn rats were much more susceptible to toxic effects of chlorpyrifos than adults. Also, even low doses of chlorpyrifos caused structural changes in the development of the brain.

While chlorpyrifos has been greatly restricted for uses in and around homes, it is still widely used in agriculture. The study described above makes it clear that children are still exposed to chlorpyrifos from residues on food.

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Resources:

Lu, C et al. 2006. Organic diets significantly lower children's dietary exposure to organophosphorus pesticides. Environmental Health Perspectives. February 2006. 114(2)260-263.   http://www.ehponline.org/members/2005/8418/8418.pdf

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 2000. Overview Of Chlorpyrifos Revised Risk Assessment.(from: Revised Risk Assessments Released 8/16/00).   http://www.epa.gov/oppsrrd1/op/chlorpyrifos/overview.pdf