Pesticides and lowered IQ: Data disturbing

Ann Lopez wrote an article that was published in the Monterey Herald about the use of organophosphates and the impact it has on women and children.  Below is that article.

Ann Lopez: Pesticides and lowered IQ: Data disturbing

A sign in an agriculture field adjacent to Gavilan View Middle School in Salinas warns of nearby pesticide application in May 2014. (David Royal - Monterey Herald) 

By Ann Lopez

I cried when I read of the horrendous lead-poisoning water crisis in Flint, Michigan, and of the concerned mother who brought her son with high lead levels in his blood to a state nurse who said, “It is just a few IQ points. … It is not the end of the world.”

It is just a few IQ points. How horrifying and cruel. Indeed, for that child and thousands more in Flint, lead-poisoned water will likely reduce their potential intelligence. Dr. Hanna-Attisha, a professor of pediatrics at Michigan State University, said, “If you were going to put something in a population to keep them down for generations to come, it would be lead.”

That is the horror in Flint, where federal, state and local regulators failed to protect the people from lead poisoning.

Here — not just in the Monterey Bay region, but all over California — we may be seeing the same horror by another name: organophosphates.

Last month, the UC Berkeley research program Center for the Health Assessment of Mothers and Children of Salinas, or CHAMACOS, published the latest in a 17-year body of scientific work regarding the health effects of organophosphate pesticide exposure on hundreds of mothers and their children. Organophosphate pesticides (OPs) inactivate or inhibit an enzyme, acetylcholinesterase, which is essential to nerve and brain function. For that reason they are called cholinesterase inhibitors. OPs were designed as biological weapons of war and have been effective at killing pests. The CHAMACOS scientists have also found that even in extremely small amounts, OPs can harm humans, especially children. Over the years and many studies, CHAMACOS has linked OP exposure of pregnant Salinas Valley mothers to poorer cognitive functioning and increased risk of attention problems in their children, as well as reduced lung function.

The latest study, “Prenatal Residential Proximity to Agricultural Pesticide Use and IQ in 7-Year-Old Children” (Environmental Health Perspectives), builds on previous CHAMACOS research correlating OP exposure to IQ loss. The quick of it: every 522 pounds of organophosphate pesticides applied within 1 kilometer (0.62 mile) of pregnant mothers’ homes correlates with a 2 point IQ decrease in their children by age 7.

How common is it for 522 pounds of OPs to be applied in an area of 0.62-mile radius in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties? Using the Department of Public Health’s pesticide mapping tool, I count 235 square miles — each slightly smaller than the area of a 0.62-mile radius circle — of Monterey and Santa Cruz counties above 522 pounds of cholinesterase inhibitors, a category of pesticides roughly 90 percent OP (with carbamates, the rest). That is a large swath of the Monterey Bay region, where there are thousands of births every year.

A closer look at these pesticide use data is even more disturbing. Many of these 235 squares miles are in or near residential neighborhoods and schools. The range of the 235 squares is from 530 to 6,603 pounds of OPs, and the median is 1,275 pounds per square mile, or nearly 2½ (2.44) times 522 pounds. That would likely yield an average per-child IQ loss of more than 2 points — possibly double that loss, in keeping with the CHAMACOS findings.

At present, the pesticide regulators at the California Department of Pesticide Regulation and our agriculture commissioners in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties have acted much like the state and local regulators in Flint: they have looked the other way, despite surely knowing of the CHAMACOS organophosphate pesticide studies that indicate brain harms to Salinas Valley children.

It is just a few IQ points. For hundreds? Thousands? Maybe tens of thousands of Monterey Bay children over the years? To borrow from Dr. Hanna-Attisha, if you were going to put something in a population to keep them down for generations to come, it could be organophosphates.

Dr. Ann Lopez is executive director of the Center for Farm Worker Familes and member of the Monterey Bay pesticide reform group Safe Ag Safe Schools.

This article was taken entirely from Monterey Herald