Peak pesticide spraying season linked to the Mother’s Day flower harvest in Ecuador’s agricultural communities has been linked to altered short-term neurological behaviors in children, UC San Diego School of Medicine researchers reported Wednesday.
“Our findings are among the first in non-worker children to suggest that a peak pesticide use period may transiently affect neurobehavioral performance,” said Dr. Jose R. Suarez-Lopez, assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Public Health at the UCSD School of Medicine.
“Children examined sooner after the flower harvest displayed lower performance on most measures, such as attention, self-control, visuospatial processing (the ability to perceive and interact with our visual world) and sensorimotor (eye-hand coordination) compared to children examined later in a time of lower flower production and pesticide use,” he said.
Ecuador is the third largest producer of cut flowers in the world, primarily roses, many of which are destined to be sold for Mother’s Day. The industry employs more than 103,000 people, and relies heavily on agricultural pesticides.
The UCSD researchers, with colleagues in Ecuador and the University of Minnesota, examined children who did not work in agriculture, but who lived in agricultural communities in Ecuador.
Their study, which is outlined in the May issue of the journal NeuroToxicology, is “novel because it shows that pesticide spray seasons can produce short-term alterations in neurobehavioral performance in addition to the long-term alterations,” Suarez-Lopez said.
“This is troublesome because the altered mental functions observed are essential for children’s learning, and in May-July, students typically take their end-of-year exams,” he said. “If their learning and performance abilities are affected in this period, they may graduate from high school with lower scores which may hinder their ability to access higher education or obtain a job.”
Early exposure to commonly applied agricultural pesticides is associated with neurobehavioral delays in children, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Pesticide exposure has been linked to altered development of reflexes and psychomotor and mental function in newborns. Boys appear more susceptible than girls, according to the researchers.
Funding for the study came, in part, from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
—City News Service
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