Pesticide Exposure and Lower IQ, Memory Problems in Kids a Serious Problem Warn Experts

Public health experts and scientists are sounding the alarm to policymakers about the serious public health problem of pregnant women’s exposure to pesticides and cognitive problems in their children.  Even very low levels of exposure to certain organophosphate pesticides (such as the residue present on commercial/non-organic produce and processed foods) have been linked to lower IQ, memory problems, attention deficit problems and memory and learning problems in their children.

Public health experts have found there is sufficient evidence that prenatal exposure to widely used insecticides known as organophosphates puts children at risk for neurodevelopmental disorders.

In a scientific review and call to action published in PLOS Medicine, the researchers call for immediate government intervention to phase out all organophosphates.

“There is compelling evidence that exposure of pregnant women to very low levels of organophosphate pesticides is associated with lower IQs and difficulties with learning, memory or attention in their children.

“Although a single organophosphate — chlorpyrifos — has been in the national spotlight, our review implicates the entire class of these compounds.”

-Dr. Irva Hertz-Picciotto, professor of public health sciences, director of the UC Davis Environmental Health Sciences Center and researcher with the UC Davis MIND Institute.

pesticides-spray pesticides

What and where are these dangerous pesticides?

Originally developed as nerve gases and weapons of war, organophosphates today are used to control insects at farms, golf courses, shopping malls and schools. They kill pests by blocking nerve signaling.

People can come into contact with these chemicals through the food they eat, the water they drink and the air they breathe. As a result, organophosphate pesticides are detected in the vast majority of U.S. residents.

Elevated risks even with low-level exposures

While existing limits on organophosphates have reduced exposures, the review authors said this isn’t enough. Based on more than 30 epidemiologic studies and scores of experimental studies in animals and cell cultures, they believe the evidence is clear: Exposure to organophosphates before birth, even at levels currently considered safe, is associated with poorer cognitive, behavioral and social development.

“It should be no surprise that studies confirm that these chemicals alter brain development, since they were originally designed to adversely affect the central nervous system…

…the effects of chronic, low-level exposures on brain functioning persist through childhood and into adolescence and may be lifelong, which also is tragic.”

misc-pregnant 1


Since even “very low levels” of exposure to these pesticides during pregnancy hold the potential for adversely affecting childhood IQ, memory, learning, and other cognitive difficulties in children, pregnant couples and those planning on becoming pregnant may want to use an abundance of caution including minimizing highly processed foods, and eating organic versions of whole foods, drinking bottled water and avoid spending time in places where these pesticides are commonly used such as golf courses and shopping malls.  Additionally, you may want to check with your employer and apartment or condo complex to learn the type and frequency of pesticides used.

Journal Reference: Irva Hertz-Picciotto, Jennifer B. Sass, Stephanie Engel, Deborah H. Bennett, Asa Bradman, Brenda Eskenazi, Bruce Lanphear, Robin Whyatt. Organophosphate exposures during pregnancy and child neurodevelopment: Recommendations for essential policy reforms. PLOS Medicine, 2018; 15 (10): e1002671 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1002671