Pesticides and inner-city children: Exposures, risks, and prevention

Philip J. Landrigan, Luz Claudio, Steven B. Markowitz, Gertrud S. Berkowitz, Barbara L. Brenner, Harry Romero, James G. Wetmur, Thomas D. Matte, Andrea C. Gore, James H. Godbold, Mary S. Wolff

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

272 Scopus citations

Abstract

Six million children live in poverty in America's inner cities. These children are at high risk of exposure to pesticides that are used extensively in urban schools, homes, and day-care centers for control of roaches, rats, and other vermin. The organophosphate insecticide chlorpyrifos and certain pyrethroids are the registered pesticides most heavily applied in cities. Illegal street pesticides are also in use, including tres pasitos (a carbamate), tiza china, and methyl parathion. In New York State in 1997, the heaviest use of pesticides in all counties statewide was in the urban boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn. Children are highly vulnerable to pesticides. Because of their play close to the ground, their hand-to-mouth behavior, and their unique dietary patterns, children absorb more pesticides from their environment than adults. The long persistence of semivolatile pesticides such as chlorpyrifos on rugs, furniture, stuffed toys, and other absorbent surfaces within closed apartments further enhances urban children's exposures. Compounding these risks of heavy exposures are children's decreased ability to detoxify and excrete pesticides and the rapid growth, development, and differentiation of their vital organ systems. These developmental immaturities create early windows of great vulnerability. Recent experimental data suggest, for example, that chlorpyrifos may be a developmental neurotoxicant and that exposure in utero may cause biochemical and functional aberrations in fetal neurons as well as deficits in the number of neurons. Certain pyrethroids exert hormonal activity that may alter early neurologic and reproductive development. Assays currently used for assessment of the toxicity of pesticides are insensitive and cannot accurately predict effects to children exposed in utero or in early postnatal life. Protection of American children, and particularly of inner-city children, against the developmental hazards of pesticides requires a comprehensive strategy that monitors patterns of pesticide use on a continuing basis, assesses children's actual exposures to pesticides, uses state-of-the-art developmental toxicity testing, and establishes social targets for reduction of pesticide use.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)431-437
Number of pages7
JournalEnvironmental Health Perspectives
Volume107
Issue numberSUPPL. 3
DOIs
StatePublished - 1999

Keywords

  • Children's environmental health
  • Chlorpyrifos
  • Environmental justice
  • Neurodevelopmental impairment
  • Organophosphates
  • Pesticides
  • Pyrethroids

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