3 Reasons Pesticides Are Making Teachers' Jobs Harder

Bug-killing chemicals are causing a brain drain in the United States.

March 2, 2012

Pesticides are dumbing down America's children.

Today's teachers are dealing with student problems that were unheard of half a century ago, creating unique challenges for educators and students alike. Scientists and leading doctors are increasingly linking environmental chemicals, including many pesticides, to lower performance levels in school. Here are three ways pesticides and kids don't mix.


Loss of Motor Skills
A new study published in the journal NeuroToxicology found strong evidence that a pregnant mother's pesticide exposure could lead to significant damage to a child's motor skills years down the road. In the study, scientists compared prenatal pesticide exposure using mothers' hair, blood, and cord blood samples, along with samples from newborns' hair and meconium, a baby's first bowel movement. (Meconium starts forming during the last months of pregnancy, giving researchers several months of prenatal pesticide exposure data.)

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As it turns out, a pregnant mother's exposure to Propoxur—a common bug-killing carbamate pesticide—was linked to significantly poorer motor development in her child by the time the child turned 2 years old. Motor skills are those that shape the ability to perform complex muscle and nerve interactions that produce movement, ranging from writing and tying shoes to using a scissors and writing on a chalkboard. Carbamate chemicals are used to kill bugs in the home and in agricultural fields; the pesticide works by affecting the bugs' brain and nervous systems. It's believed that those same kinds of neurological disruptions are what's harming the children as they develop.

Brain-Draining Pest Killers
A new report looking at environmental chemicals and IQ found that children exposed to organophosphate pesticides, a popular type of chemical used to kill bugs in fruit and vegetable farming, suffer lower IQs. Looking at 25 million children ages 5 and younger, the analysis found that exposure to these pesticides accounts for a collective 17 million lost IQ points. This loss of productivity affects the economy over the long-term and stresses schools and healthcare systems, according to experts.

Vanishing Attention Spans
Diagnosed ADHD cases in kids have been on the rise, with increases between 3 and 5 percent reported annually over the last decade. Mounting studies suggest pesticides are partly to blame. For instance, a 2010 study published in the journal Pediatrics found that children with higher urine levels of neurotoxic organophosphate pesticides were twice as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD. Diet is generally the biggest source of pesticide exposure in kids, but a primarily organic diet can slash pesticide levels in the body by about 90 percent, according to pediatrician Phil Landrigan, MD, professor and chair of preventive medicine at Mount Sinai Medical School in New York.

Read More: Pesticides in Food Linked to ADHD in Kids

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