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April 22, 2011

Pesticide exposure lowers children's intelligence

This isn't a new idea. The organic food movement began with research in the late 80s and early 90s that our fruits and vegetables contained far more pesticide residue than we had expected. The pesticides were carcinogens or other scary-seeming toxins that, once consumed, lingered in your fat for years and years. I used to eat terribly. Lots of fast food. Lots of Kraft Mac n Cheese. Lots of reheated frozen meals. It was not what you would call a healthy diet. I was not on a good path. But so a book changed my life and changed my diet. My friend Julie Bednarski (thanks, Julie) gave me a copy of "Diet For A Poisoned Planet." It's an alarming title, sure, but the book was absolutely revolutionary. It was written by a journalist from LA who had been doing a story in the early 80s about fishing off the Santa Monica pier. It was a puff piece. Local color. But the journalist, David Steinman, became curious about the safety of the fish his neighbors (and he) were eating. So he had the fish tested. And he had his own tissue tested. And the blood of regular fishermen he was reporting on. The results showed that they all had very high contamination of PCBs and other chemicals. It scared him and lead him to write the book. In the book he works with a team of scientists to analyze pesticide residues in common foods. They published lists of what foods commonly contained which cancerous chemicals ad suggested which foods were safe to eat conventionally and which should only be eaten organically. He was vilified in the press, attacked by the food lobbies, and attacked by the Surgeon General. Time has shown that Steinman was right though. It's a great book. Highly recommended if you can find it. Anyways, organic food, yo. It's important. NPR has had several dozen debates about organic food over the last few years. They never bring up the pesticide issue (which is the ENTIRE POINT of organic foods). Instead they trot out strawmen about organic foods tasting better (they do sometimes) or about them being more nutritious (nope) and always end with a statement about how organic farming isn't sustainable at the global level so we shouldn't do it. It's facile and insulting. Pesticide exposure at even moderate levels acts like lead exposure. It can impair the IQ of children. It can give adults cancer. This is why eating organic is important. Pesticides Affect Children's Intelligence - NYTimes.com
Babies exposed to high levels of common pesticides in the womb have lower I.Q. scores than their peers by the time they reach school age, according to three new studies. The research, based on data collected in New York and California from about 1,000 pregnant women and their babies, is certain to set off a new debate about the benefits of organic produce and the risks of chemicals found in the food supply and consumer products. The pesticides, called organophosphates, are commonly sprayed on food crops and are often used to control cockroaches and other pests in city apartments. The latest findings are based on three separate but similar studies financed by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Two were conducted by researchers at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Columbia University and studied urban families in New York; the third was done by researchers at the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley, and focused on children in Salinas, Calif., an agricultural area. All three were published online on Thursday in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. . . . The drop in I.Q. scores shown in the pesticide studies is similar to the drops shown in the earlier lead research, Dr. Landrigan said. “When we took lead out of gasoline, we reduced lead poisoning by 90 percent, and we raised the I.Q. of a whole generation of children by four or five points,’’ said Dr. Landrigan. “I think these findings about pesticides should generate similar controversy, but I’m cautiously optimistic that they will have the effect of having the E.P.A. sharply reduce the use of organophosphate pesticides.” Individuals can also do more to limit their own exposure. In homes with pest problems, sealing up cracks and crevices in baseboards and cleaning up food residue has been shown to be more effective at controlling cockroaches than using pesticides.