The results of three studies published earlier this month in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, show a direct link between exposure to organophosphate (OP) insecticides and neurological damage to babies while in utero.
The studies, which each used different methods of exploration, all concluded that prenatal contact with OPs resulted in lower IQ levels among the exposed children, with some of the damage so severe that those affected children will have developmental and neurological issues as a result for the rest of their lives.
The study authors compared their test findings to the adverse results of lead exposure, which was prominent in the 1960s and 1970s before unleaded gasoline and lead-free paint. The high levels of lead exposure saw affected children performing six months behind their average age groups at school.
Organophosphates are the most frequently used pesticides and insecticides in the world, and are listed by the EPA as a possible human carcinogen. They have devastating effects on neurological systems, and can even lead to death—having been used in terror attacks and suicides, as well as causing numerous accidental deaths.
The widespread use of OPs means they are commonly ending up in non-organic food, which increases the risk for anyone exposed, and is particularly worrisome for pregnant women, as the group of studies published in Environmental Health Perspectives suggests.
Symptoms of OP exposure can include impaired memory, trouble concentrating, confusion, depression, frustration, headaches and migraines, difficulty speaking, slowed reaction times, nightmares, insomnia, vomiting, weakness and general flu-like symptoms. Chronic exposure may also lead to Alzheimer's disease, according to a separate study conducted in 2010.
Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger