Despite years of studies linking a class of pesticides called organophosphates to significant health problems in humans, the chemicals are still widely used on food crops in the United States. Now, researchers at the University of California Berkeley say organophosphates may be causing substantial lung damage in children—equal to what they would experience if a parent smoked.
“The finding is pretty significant,” said study author Brenda Eskenazi in a recent statement. Specifically, she and her team discovered that ongoing exposure, even at low levels, resulted in a loss of lung function and difficulty exhaling—about an 8% drop in the amount of air kids were able to expel for every tenfold increase in the presence of organophosphates.
More than 270 children took part in the study, which lasted several years. At specific intervals, researchers measured lung function (using a spirometry test) and pesticide levels in the urine. They also took into account other factors such as air pollution, tobacco use in the home, and mold exposure.
On a positive note, study authors point out that the use of organophosphates in California has dropped by about 50% in the last decade, thanks to growing research about human health concerns. However, because they are still so widely used, researchers encourage parents to thoroughly wash all produce and make sure kids avoid farms where pesticides may be used.