Organic Consumers Association

Pesticide levels in children twice that of adults, CDC says
Tom Meersman
Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
Published Feb. 1, 2003

Children's bodies contain twice the levels of several pesticides compared to adults, according to a national study released Friday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The $6.5 million study looked for 116 chemicals in the blood and urine of 2,500 people in 1999 and 2000. It is the most extensive assessment to date of Americans' exposure to environmental chemicals.

The study measured metals such as mercury, lead and uranium, and various active ingredients or breakdown products of pesticides, insect repellents, plastics and disinfectants.

Dr. Richard Jackson, director of the CDC's National Center for Environmental Health, said that the study did not attempt to evaluate which exposure levels are safe and which are not. "I must stress that just because a chemical can be measured in blood or urine doesn't mean that it causes illness or disease," he said.

Dr. Jim Pirkle, deputy director for science at CDC's environmental health laboratory, said children consistently had higher levels of insecticide-related chemicals than adults. For one insecticide, chlorpyrifos , sold as Dursban, the levels in children's urine were twice that of adults.

Dursban has been one of the most heavily used insecticides to kill roaches in homes. It's also found in Lorsban, which is used to control agricultural pests. Pirkle said the levels were measured before federal officials banned sales of the chemical for residential use at the end of 2001.

Jackson said one reason for the higher levels in children may be that they eat, breathe and drink two to three times more than adults do, relative to their body weight.

Pam Shubat, environmental toxicologist for the Minnesota Department of Health, said the study's data will be valuable immediately, giving physicians and public health officials a reference against which to compare lab results. "This is exactly the kind of data that make it easier to tell whether we're looking at unusual levels of something," she said.

The CDC also found that the percentage of children with elevated lead levels in their blood has been cut in half in the past decade, and that cotinine , a product of nicotine, had dropped by 75 percent in nonsmoking adults and 58 percent in children since the early 1990s.

Researchers said they were encouraged that levels of other chemicals seem to be ebbing, including the banned insecticide DDT, PCBs, and dioxins.

Jackie Hunt Christensen, co-director of the food and health program at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy in Minneapolis, said the study shows that some chemicals remain in the environment -- and in people -- for decades. "It shows that we shouldn't broadcast [use] them quite so wantonly as we have been doing," she said.

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