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Widely Used Pesticide Seems to Harm Boys' Brains More than Girls'

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A widely used pesticide - banned in homes but still commonly used on farms - appears to harm boys' developing brains more than girls', according to a new study of children in New York City.

In boys, exposure to chlorpyrifos in the womb was associated with lower scores on short-term memory tests compared with girls exposed to similar amounts.

The study is the first to find gender differences in how the insecticide harms prenatal development. Scientists say the finding adds to evidence that boys' brains may be more vulnerable to some chemical exposures.

"This suggests that the harmful effects of chlorpyrifos are stronger among boys, which indicates that perhaps boys are more vulnerable to this type of exposure," said Virginia Rauh, a perinatal epidemiologist at Columbia University and co-author of the study published in July.

Chlorpyrifos is an organophosphate insecticide, a powerful class of pesticide that has toxic effects on nervous systems. It was widely used in homes and yards to kill cockroaches and other insects, but in 2001 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency banned its residential use because of health risks to children. Since then, levels inside U.S. homes have dropped [PDF], but residue remains in many homes. In addition, many developing countries still use the pesticide indoors.

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