New review of pesticide research shows links between pesticide exposure
and harmful neurodevelopmental, respiratory, and reproductive health
TORONTO, June 19, 2012 /CNW/ - The Ontario College of Family Physicians
(OCFP) is strongly recommending the public reduce their exposure to
pesticides wherever possible, based on the findings of its second
comprehensive review of research on the effects of pesticides on human
health. Released today, this review shows associations between
pesticide exposure and various neurological and respiratory diseases,
as well as reproductive problems. Covering 142 studies, the review also
demonstrates that children are particularly vulnerable to pesticide
exposures that occur during pregnancy.
"Many of the health problems linked with pesticides are serious," said
Dr. Margaret Sanborn, family physician, Assistant Clinical Professor at
McMaster University, and one of the review's authors. "So it's
important we continue to advocate for reducing exposure as the most
The review's findings suggest that increased vigilance is needed to
minimize the exposure of pregnant women, children, and adults from all
potential sources of pesticides, including dietary, indoor and outdoor
air, water, and farm exposures. Common pesticides the public should
watch out for include glyphosate, pyrethrins and atrazine.
In Canada, several provinces and many municipalities have already
mandated bans and phase-outs of various pesticides in the past several
years, demonstrating a trend of reducing the public's unnecessary
exposure to these harmful chemicals. The OCFP supports a continuation
of these bans as a way of reducing human exposure.
Principle Findings of the Review:
Many of the studies reviewed by the Ontario College show positive
associations between pesticide exposure, across a wide age range, and
deficits in child neurodevelopment, child and adult respiratory
symptoms, and adverse reproductive outcomes.
Some of these outcomes include:
Children are experiencing various neurodevelopmental problems, starting
as newborns and continuing throughout childhood, that are associated
with prenatal pesticide exposure.
In newborns, signs of exposure include abnormal reflexes, deficits in
attentiveness to stimuli and irritability.i
Children up to age three show consistent reductions in the Mental
Development Index, part of a scale used to assess development in young
In older children, attention problems such as attention deficit
hyperactivity disorder and reduced overall IQ are more common in
children who had higher levels of pesticide exposure during their
mother's pregnancy. This can result in reduced school performance,
increased behavioural problems, and reduced earnings in adulthood.iii
There is evidence that exposure to pesticides is associated with the
development of respiratory symptoms and some lung diseases.
In children, the findings point to an association between asthma and
pesticide exposure, specifically maternal exposure during pregnancy.iv
Large studies of male and female farm employees show increased risk of
asthma and identify specific pesticides (including 2,4-D and
glyphosate) and several insecticides that are most associated with this
In adults, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is also
associated with occupational exposure to pesticides.vi
Pesticide exposure in utero has been associated with lower birth weight.vii
Lower birth weight can be predictive of long-term problems later in
life, such as diabetes and heart disease.vii
One study from New York City found a significant increase in the birth
weights of infants born after a household ban on two insecticides
frequently used indoors.ix This helps illustrate the possible health benefit of pesticide bans
within a few years of implementation.
What the Public Should Do:
Given the wide range of commonly used agricultural, home and garden
pesticide products associated with health effects, the College's
overall message to patients is to avoid exposure to all pesticides whenever and wherever possible. This includes reducing both occupational exposures, as well as
lowering exposure levels at home. The College also advocates exposure
reduction techniques such as:
Reduce use of indoor and home and garden pesticides and look for
alternative organic methods of lawn and garden care and indoor pest
If pesticides are unavoidable (such as in agricultural settings), ensure
proper use of personal protection equipment and change clothes before
coming into contact with others (so the pesticides do not come into the
home, car, etc.).
What Family Physicians Should Do:
The College is advocating that, where appropriate, family physicians
counsel patients to prevent or reduce pesticide exposure in several
In preconception and prenatal visits, counsel patients to reduce
pesticide exposure and help reduce negative birth outcomes,
neurodevelopmental problems, and childhood asthma associated with
prenatal pesticide exposure.
Advise parents to minimize exposure of children of all ages by reducing
use of indoor and home and garden pesticides.
Alert new parents to the risks of paraoccupational (i.e., take-home)
exposures and the protective benefits of wearing personal protective
equipment for patients that have unavoidable occupational exposure.
Educate patients in occupations at high risk of pesticide exposure about
the health effects associated with these exposures; identify patients,
such as those with asthma, sarcoidosis (a disease affecting the lungs)
or COPD, who may have special vulnerability to pesticide exposure.
About the Ontario College of Family Physicians:
The Ontario College of Family Physicians is a provincial chapter of the
College of Family Physicians of Canada and is a voluntary,
not-for-profit association that promotes family medicine in Ontario
through leadership, education and advocacy. The OCFP represents close
to 11,000 family physicians providing care for remote, rural, suburban,
urban and inner-city populations in Ontario. The OCFP is the voice of
family medicine in Ontario. At the heart of the organization is the
building and maintenance of high standards of practice and the
continuous improvement of access to quality family practice services
for all residents of Ontario.
NOTE TO EDITORS: The 2012 Systematic Review of Pesticide Health Effects
is available on the OCFP's website at www.ocfp.on.ca.
i2012 Systematic Review of Pesticide Health Effects. Toronto, ON: Ontario
College of Family Physicians; 2012, Page 52.
iiEskenazi B, Marks AR, Bradman A, Harley K, Barr DB, Johnson C et al
2007. Organophosphate pesticide exposure and neurodevelopment in young
Mexican American children. Environ Health Perspect 115(5):792-798.
Horton MK, Rundle A, Camann DE, Barr DB, Rauh VA, Whyatt RM 2011. Impact
of prenatal exposure to piperonylbutoxide and permethrin on 36-month
neurodevelopment. Pediatrics 127(3):e699-e706.
iii Bouchard MF, Beelinger DC, Wright RO, Weisskopf MG 2010.
Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and urinary metabolites of
organophosphate pesticides. Pediatrics 125(6): e1270-1277.
Rauh VA, Arundajadai S, Horton M, Perera F, Hoepner L, Barr DB et al
2011.7-year neurodevelopmental scores and prenatal exposure to
chlorpyrifos, a common agricultural pesticide. Env Health Perspect
ivDuramad P, Harley K, Lipsett M, Bradman A, Eskenazi B Holland NT et al
2006. Early environmental exposures and intracellular Th1/Th2 cytokine
profiles in 24-month old children living in an agricultural area.
Health Perspect 114(12): 1916-1922.
v Hoppin JA, Umbach DM,London SJ, Henneberger PK Kullman GJ, Alavanja MC
et al 2008. Pesticides and atopic and non-atopic asthma among farm
women in the Agricultural Health Study. Am J Respir Crit Care Med.
viJA, Valcin, M, Henneberger PK, JKullman GJ, Umbach DM, London SJ et al
2007. Pesticide use and chronic bronchitis among farmers in the
Agricultural Health Study. Am J Ind Med 50(12): 969-979.
viiChevrier C, Limon G, Monfort C, Rouget F, Garlantezec R, Petit C et al
2011. Urinary biomarkers of prenatal atrazine exposure and adverse
birth outcomes in the PELAGIE birth cohort. Environ Health Perspect
viiiCalkins K, Devaskar SU. 2011. Fetal origins of adult disease. Curr Probl
Pediatr Adolesc Health Care. 2011 Jul;41(6):158-76.
ixWhyatt RM, Rauh V, Barr DB, Camann DE, Andrews HF, Garfinkel R et al.
2004. Prenatal insecticide exposures and birth weight and length among
an urban minority cohort. Environ Health Perspect
112ArundajadaiS,Horton M, Perera F, Hoepner L, Barr DB et
SOURCE Ontario College of Family Physicians
For further information:
Ontario College of Family Physicians