Pesticides Lower Intelligence in Children

Pesticides Lower Intelligence in Children
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Aside from the fact that pesticides can harm the DNA of all living things, there’s another reason their use isn’t a smart idea — they contain chemicals that lower IQ in children, even before they are born.

Toxins for Sale in the Produce Isle

The main culprits responsible for causing lower cognitive function are organophosphate pesticides, namely diazinon, chlorpyrifos and malathion. These agents work against pesky insects because they inhibit chemical messengers in the brain to interrupt neurological processes. Unfortunately, these agents have the same effect on humans. In an article written by Leah Zerbe for, Phil Landrigan, M.D., of Mount Sinai Medical School describes organophosphate pesticides as silent IQ erasers and cautions that even very low levels of exposure can produce this effect (4).

Although the sale of diazinon for residential use was banned by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in December 2004 (2), diazinon and similar organophosphate pesticides are still legally used in commercial farming (3). This means that trace amounts of these compounds are likely entering your family’s diet from the consumption of non-organic produce. If you’re expecting a new addition to the family, your unborn child is also at risk for exposure since these chemicals are capable of crossing the placenta membrane (3). Key point: Research clearly shows that exposure to pesticides from the mother’s diet can adversely affect a child’s IQ while he or she is still in the womb. 

Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?

Perhaps, but if you have a lot of dialkyl phosphate metabolites in your system, your child may lose a few IQ points by the time he or she reaches the 4th grade. A study published in “Environmental Health Perspectives” in 2011 shows a significant link between lower IQ and decreased cognitive function during the early school years and exposure to organophosphate pesticides while in the womb. The study authors based their findings on the results of following 329 seven-year-old children and their mothers for seven years, starting in early pregnancy. Mothers were assessed during pregnancy and after delivery for levels of dialkyl phosphate (DAP), a marker of organophosphate metabolism found in urine. The researchers found that the women with the highest DAP levels had children whose IQ was seven or more points lower than their counterparts. These children also demonstrated impaired language comprehension and difficulty processing and retaining information. (5)

Other studies report similar findings, as well as correlations between lower IQ and exposure to mercury and lead. According to the Rodale article, out of 25 million children from whom data is available, a collective loss of 23 million IQ points is observed where exposure to lead has occurred, which translates to about 1.5 points per child. For children exposed to organophosphate phosphates, the collective loss registers at 17 million IQ points. (4) Although these losses seem minor, and while IQ is certainly not a measurement of a parent’s love or a child’s worth, the compromise across the board may have future social and economic impact. In fact, some financial experts speculate that each IQ point represents $10,000 of potential income over the course of a lifetime (4). Further, lower intelligence in the future adult population may translate to poor decision-making and coping skills and a higher incidence of criminal activity (4) and substance abuse.

What You Can Do

Eat organic. Research indicates that consuming organic foods may reduce dietary exposure to environmental toxins by a whopping 90 percent.

Use all-natural cleaning products. Believe it or not, pesticides are found in many household cleaning products, especially laundry detergent. Aside from these products contributing to groundwater contamination, residual toxins left on clothing can penetrate the skin.

Stay away from treated lawns and indoor common areas. This includes neighborhood lawns, parks and other public places, as well as public buildings. By federal law, public indoor and outdoor areas treated with chemical pesticides must be posted, and in the case of schools, parents must be notified in writing.


Environmental Health Perspectives: 
“Prenatal exposure to organophosphate pesticides and IQ in 7-year-old children.” Bouchard MF, Chevrier J, Harley KG et al.; Aug. 2011

EPA: Diazinon: Phase Out of all Residential Uses of the Insecticide

Science News: “Pesticides tied to lower IQ in children”; Janet Raloff; May 2011

Rodale: “Trio of Chemicals Responsible for Major U.S. Brain Drain”; Leah Zerbe; Feb. 2012

FYI Living: Chemical in Pesticides Linked to Lower IQs in 4th Graders

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