Pesticide Risk to Babies Underestimated: Study

They're up to 130 times more sensitive than adults, researchers warn

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THURSDAY, March 2, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Newborns have far greater variability in susceptibility to pesticides than previously believed, U.S. researchers report. They found that some newborns may be 26 to 50 times more susceptible to certain organophosphate pesticides than other newborns, and 65 to 130 times more sensitive than some adults.

The study "raises the question of whether current standards for safe levels of pesticide exposure are sufficiently protective of a vulnerable population," co-lead author Nina Holland, a University of California, Berkeley adjunct professor of environmental health sciences, said in a prepared statement.

"Based on our study, I feel that more research is urgently needed to establish whether the standards need to be re-evaluated," Holland said.

The study appears in the March 2 issue of the journal Pharmacogenetics and Genomics.

Along with researchers at the University of Washington, Holland's team studied 130 Hispanic women and their newborns living in California's Salinas Valley, an agricultural area where almost 200,000 pounds of the organophosphate pesticides diazinon and chlorpyrifos are used each year.

Current U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guidelines for pesticides require an tenfold extra safety factor to protect children compared with adults if there are gaps in information about the children's susceptibility. The EPA can select a lower safety factor if the agency believes there's enough available information.

"People have this remarkable difference in enzymes that defend their health from pesticide exposure," Holland said. "In developing regulatory standards for safe levels of exposure, we need to protect the most sensitive in a population, particularly because children and unborn fetuses are involved."

More information

The EPA has more about pesticides and health.

SOURCE: University of California, Berkeley, news release, March 2, 2006

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