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It’s Not Just a Load of Crop: Investigating the Chlorpyrifos Insecticide

crop-bugToxic Burden in Farmworker Households

The chemicals found in fertilizers and pesticides are known to adversely affect the human nervous system even at low levels of exposure.

Neither the agricultural industry nor the EPA can deny scientific findings regarding the toxic qualities of organophosphates in the insecticide chlorpyrifos, but that does not deter pesticide manufacturers from selling harmful products.

In fact, Dow AgroSciences, a pesticide company, states on its website that, “Insecticides, such as chlorpyrifos, provide important protection for our food supply and thus safeguard farm and consumer economy.”

To understand the health risks associated with pesticide exposure, I studied the influence of organophosphates in the insecticide chlorpyrifos on children living in agricultural communities, primarily in Salinas Valley, Calif.

I performed the review by analyzing a variety of articles and academic sources that focused on organophosphate exposure and child neurobehavioral functioning.

Did Someone Say Pesticides?

The application of pesticides began in the United States in the 1930s. In the years following World War II, synthetic pesticides have become an important form of pest management.

Farmers justify the spraying of pesticides because for every $1 spent on pesticides, there is a return of $3 to $5 through increased crop yield (Pimentel et al. 274). The insecticide chlorpyrifos is applied on grain, cotton, fruit, nut and vegetable crops to control pests. More than 20 million pounds of the product are sprayed annually in the U.S to control beetles, ants, worms, cockroaches, flies, mosquitoes and termites. The chemical organophosphates in chlorpyrifos is directly linked to thousands of pesticide poisoning incidents.

Preliminary Findings

Farmers spray pesticides that contain organophosphates to support their harvest. The pesticides from the field pass through the air to nearby homes. There is a direct relationship between proximity to treated farmland and organophosphate exposure.

The children living in agricultural areas are especially susceptible to harmful chemicals when parents bring home insecticide particles. The organophosphates in chlorpyrifos attach to the belongings and clothing of farmworkers during work on the field. Infants and children are in sensitive stages of development and the organophosphates build up in their bodies through ingestion, inhalation, and dermal contact.

In Salinas Valley agricultural communities, mothers typically work during pregnancy. The pesticides on the farm pass through the amniotic fluid, blood-brain barrier and placenta of the fetus. The risk of pervasive developmental disorders and delayed mental development increases when the normal coalescing of the nervous system is disturbed.

The behavior, memory and motor skills of children are negatively related to postnatal organophosphate exposure. The effects of pesticide contact may be cumulative and only recognized at later ages. Peripheral neuropathy and carpal tunnel syndrome illustrate the risk of constant, low-level organophosphate exposure.

Acetylcholine Build-up

Insecticides possess an acute neurotoxicity that causes an irreversible inhibition of acetylcholinesterase (AChE) activity at cholinergic synapses. The inhibition of AChE results in the accumulation of acetylcholine, which triggers the repeated activation of the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR).

When children inhale organophosphates, AChE is inhibited and the subsequent accumulation of acetylcholine depolarizes the postsynaptic cell and causes neuromuscular paralysis.

The findings indicate that organophosphates found in the insecticide chlorpyrifos block the enzyme acetylcholinesterase and initiate the accumulation of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, leading to impairments in attention and cognition.

‘Lettuce’ Move Forward

Farm children exposed to the chemicals via the mother during gestation period or who are exposed through inhalation or physical contact may be at higher risks for ADHD and autism than reference children who are typically only exposed to organophosphates through diet.

The effects of constant, low-level organophosphate exposure may be cumulative and only recognized at later ages. Further study is needed to understand gender-based effects following organophosphate exposure in regard to carpal tunnel syndrome and ADHD.

It is only through understanding the harmful effects of chemicals in pesticides that policies can be constructed to effectively reduce pesticide application and encourage alternatives of crop rotation, intercropping, crop diversity and the use of pests to fight other pests in the agricultural society.

Sources:

American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Ed. Text Revision. Washington, D.C: American Psychiatric Publishing, 2000. Print.

Bouchard, Maryse, David Bellinger, Robert Wright, and Marc Weisskopf. “Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and Urinary Metabolites of Organophosphate Pesticides.” Pediatrics 125.6 (2010): 1269-1278. Highwire Press American Academy of Pediatrics. Web. 7 Sept. 2014.

Carr, Russell, Casey Graves, Lee Mangum, Carole Nail, and Matthew Ross. “Low Level Chlorpyrifos Exposure Increases Anandamide Accumulation in Juvenile Rat Brain in the Absence of Brain Cholinesterase Inhibition.” NeuroToxicology 43 (2013): 82-89. ScienceDirect. Web. 17 Sept. 2014.

Eells, Jeffrey, and Timothy Brown. “Repeated Developmental Exposure to Chlorpyrifos and Methyl Parathion Causes Persistent Alterations in Nicotinic Acetylcholine Subunit mRNA Expression with Chlorpyrifos Altering Dopamine Metabolite Levels.” Elsevier 31.2 (2009): 98-103. ScienceDirect. Web. 17 Sept. 2014.

Eskenazi, Brenda, Amy Marks, Asa Bradman, Kim Harley, Dana Bart, Caroline Johnson, Norma Morga and Nicholas Jewell. “Organophosphate Pesticide Exposure and Neurodevelopment in Young Mexican-American Children.” Environmental Health Perspectives 115.3 (2007): 792-798. PubMed. Web. 7 Sept. 2014.

Florian, Cristina, Alina Farcas, Andreea Valceanu Matei, and Gheorghe Coman. “Neurodevelopmental and Neurobehavioral Effects of Organophosphate Pesticides Exposure in Newborns and Children.” Environmental Security Assessment and Management of Obsolete Pesticides in Southeast Europe. Ed. Lubomir Simeonov, Fliur Macaev, and Biana Simeonova. Dordrecht: Springer, 2013. 139-145. Springer.com. Web. 22 Sept. 2014.

Grandjean, Philippe, Raul Harari, Dana Barr, and Frodi Debes. “Pesticide Exposure and Stunting as Independent Predictors of Neurobehavioral Deficits in Ecuadorian School Children.” Pediatrics 117.3 (2006): 546-556. PubMed. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.

Guillette, Elizabeth, Maria Meza, Maria Aquilar, Alma Soto, and Idalia Enedina. “An Anthropological Approach to the Evaluation of Preschool Children Exposed to Pesticides in Mexico.” Environmental Health Perspectives 106.6 (1998): 347-353. MEDLINE. Web. 6 Oct. 2014.

Harnly, Martha, Robert McLaughlin, Asa Bradman, Meredith Anderson, and Robert Gunier. “Correlating Agricultural Use of Organophosphates with Outdoor Air Concentrations: A Particular Concern for Children.” Environmental Health Perspectives 113.9 (2005): 1184-1189. MEDLINE. Web. 9 Oct. 2014.

Lu, Chensheng, Richard Fenske, Nancy Simcox, and David Kalman. “Pesticide Exposure of Children in an Agricultural Community: Evidence of Household Proximity to Farmland and Take Home Exposure Pathways.” Environmental Research 84.3 (2000): 290-302. ScienceDirect. Web. 7 Sept. 2014.

Katz, Elizabeth, Vania Cortes, Mohyee Eldefrawi, and Amira Eldefrawi. “Chlorpyrifos, Parathion, and Their Oxons Bind to and Desensitize.” Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology 146.2 (1997): 227–236. ScienceDirect. Web. 12 Oct. 2014.

Kofman, Ora, Andrea Berger, Ali Massarwa, Alon Friedman, and Abed Abu Jafar. “Motor Inhibition and Learning Impairments in School-Aged Children Following Exposure to Organophosphate Pesticides in Infancy.” Pediatric Research 60.1 (2006): 88-92. Ovid. Web 10 Sept. 2014.

Middlemore-Risher, Mary-Louise, Jerry Buccafusco, and Alvin Terry. “Repeated Exposures to Low-Level Chlorpyrifos Results in Impairments in Sustained Attention and Increased Impulsivity in Rats.” Neurotoxicology and Teratology 32.4 (2010): 415–424. ScienceDirect. Web. 7 Sept. 2014.

Ophir, A., I. Karakisc, E. Richard, J. Abarbanela, U. Wormserb, M. Aschner, and Y. Finkelstein. “An Uncommon Pattern of Polyneuropathy Induced by Lifetime Exposures to Drift Containing Organophosphate Pesticides.” NeuroToxicology (2014): n.pag. ScienceDirect. Web. 19 Oct. 2014.

Pimentel, David, Lori McLaughlin, Andrew Zepp, Benyamin Lakitan, Tamara Kraus, Peter Kleinman, Fabius Vancini, John Roach, and Ellen Graap. “Environmental and Economic Effects of Reducing Pesticide Use in Agriculture.” Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 46.1 (1993): 273-288. ScienceDirect. Web. 8 Dec. 2014.

(NOTE: Sravya Uppalapati is a biology major and medical humanities and chemistry minor at Virginia Commonwealth University. Uppalapati is a teaching assistant in SAT classes at Ramana Coaching Center and a research assistant at the Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics lab. Her clinical experience includes volunteering at the Richmond Center for High Blood Pressure and in the emergency medicine department at the Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center. Uppalapati shadows physicians on pediatric plastic surgery and reconstructive surgery at the same center and on internal medicine at the Novant Health Meridian Medical Group. She expects to graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree from the university in May 2018.)

Sravya Uppalapati (1 Posts)

I am a student in Virginia Commonwealth University’s Guaranteed Admissions in Medicine program. I am currently working as a research assistant on a twin study focused on the development of an internalizing disorder at Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics. I'm writing for PharmPsych to explore medicine and provide quality health tips for readers.


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