Do Pesticides Make Us Dumber?

We have all heard about the health concerns regarding pesticides, particularly that some have been shown to cause cancer. But there is another danger associated with prenatal exposure to pesticides – a significant drop in I.Q. The National Institute of Health, a division of the United State Department of Health and Human Services, studied children who were exposed to pesticides while in the womb and concluded that those children scored an average of 7 points lower on I.Q. tests than children not exposed to pesticides.

Because organophosphate pesticides are considered neurotoxins (even at low levels of exposure) this should come as no surprise. What is surprising, however, is that this information is not included on warning labels of commercially sold pesticides everywhere. Of the several studies done on different kinds of exposures, either with household pesticides or those sprayed on crops, each study saw a significant decrease in overall cognitive ability. Just as studies have shown that lead exposure can lead to developmental problems with children, pesticide exposure should also be something we warn pregnant mothers to avoid.

There are ways to limit exposure to these neurotoxins: eating organic and avoiding pesticides are the most obvious. Washing all fruits and vegetables before eating is a good way to reduce pesticide levels. There are also natural ways to control insects in the home. The state of California is considering a law that would require a .25 mile buffer between any industrial farm where pesticides are used and any childcare facility or school. Obviously this isn’t enough, but it’s a start.

When we consider how important it is to give each child the tools to succeed in life, knowing that a child can start out severely limited only because of exposure to bug spray should make us all think. A study in Sweden concluded that the higher a person’s I.Q., the longer he or she will live. Higher I.Q. has also been consistently correlated with wealth and success. We also know that I.Q. pretty much stays the same, so we will most likely keep the scores we had as children. With this in mind, do we really need these pesticides more than we need an intelligent population or can we figure out a better way to live?

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