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More Research Linking Pesticide Exposure to ADHD in Kids

Last week, I was shopping at a Berkeley grocery store with a friend visiting from another country. She wanted to buy blueberries for her two toddlers, and grabbed a big carton on sale for just $2. Inwardly, I winced, and I couldn't help myself -- I blurted out, "Um, blueberries are on the Environmental Working Group's Dirty Dozen list for pesticide residues. The organic section's over here ... "

Over in the organic section, she was appalled. "These are three times as expensive!"

I tried to explain. "The sweeter the fruit, the harder it is to grow organically, to protect it from pests. And the more conventionally grown fruit peel the kids eat, as in small fruits like strawberries and blueberries, well, the more pesticides they're ingesting." (Grist's Tom Laskawy reported on the latest research about exposure levels from fruit.)

My friend decided that her kids ate blueberries just twice a year, and she was OK with the risk from the $2 box.

As my daughter doesn't yet eat food, I haven't had to make those painful calculations. Both of us are fortunate. We have choices about what to feed our kids. What about the parents of kids growing up breathing these same pesticides? They're not so lucky.

A new study, published last week in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, looked at the effects of both prenatal and childhood exposure to organophosphate pesticides -- of which 73 million pounds are applied each year in the U.S. -- and found yet another link to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Not surprisingly, children living in agricultural areas are even more at risk.

UC Berkeley researchers have been studying more than 300 Mexican-American children living in California's Salinas Valley, aka America's "Lettuce Bowl." They tested for levels of pesticide metabolites in urine in pregnant mothers, their newborns, and at 2 years old. The findings? Each tenfold increase in pesticide levels in the mothers' urine was associated with a fivefold increase in attention problems, and boys had it worse than girls.