Pesticides contribute to lower IQ’s in children …. or do they?

A curious article was published today in an online environmentalist publication named Eco Child’s Play. The report cited a scientific manuscript published in the July edition of the academic journal Environmental Health Perspectives. The author of the Eco Child’s Play article alleges that the study concludes that pregnant women living near farms put their babies at risk for lower IQ’s resulting from exposure to pesticides. It further states that researchers examined almost 300 mothers and children in Salinas, California. The families lived within one kilometer of a farm that used pesticides on its crops. Among the five potentially neurotoxic pesticide groups included in the research are organophosphates, carbamates and (you guessed it) neonicotinoids.

One of the two key paragraphs lifted from the document Eco Child’s Play cites to make their case states:

We observed a nearly universal trend of lower IQ scores for all domains with greater use of individual OP pesticides and other potentially neurotoxic pesticide groups within 1 km of the maternal residence during pregnancy.

After a review of the study, there are key issues in it that the author of the news article did not to mention were that invalidates their claim:

People living in agricultural communities are exposed to a complex mixture of many individual pesticide active ingredients and also potentially neurotoxic adjuvants included in the formulation. Better methods are needed for toxicity-weighting across neurotoxic pesticide classes. To improve pesticide exposure assessment based on PUR data, exposure models should be optimized using measured pesticide concentrations in air or house dust samples.

The document goes on to say in its conclusion:

We observed an inverse association between prenatal residential proximity to agricultural use of OPs and other neurotoxic pesticides and cognition in children at 7-years of age. The results of OPs based on PUR data remained significant when including prenatal urinary maternal DAP concentrations in the model, and the effect estimates of nearby OP use and urinary DAPs were of similar magnitude. The association also remained after adjustment for prenatal exposure to other neurotoxic chemicals. Agricultural use of individual pesticides and classes of neurotoxic pesticides were highly correlated, making it difficult to identify specific pesticides driving these associations.

In other words, the scientists conducting this research have a hypothesis and have found evidence to correlate their idea. However, there is still more research to do be done since, as the authors admit, this is the first examination to evaluate the relationship between IQ’s in children and the use of pesticides near pregnant women. Until more research is done, even the scientists still remain unsure that is indicated in this paragraph found early on in the Discussion section where a study of the same subject was conducted but the relationship was inverse for post natal exposure (i.e. the opposite results occur):

A recent study conducted in Spain that used residential proximity to agricultural fields as a proxy for pesticide exposure observed an inverse relationship between postnatal, but not prenatal, hectares of crops near the residence and Full-Scale IQ, Verbal Comprehension, and Processing Speed in children 6 – 11-years of age (Gonzalez-Alzaga et al. 2015).

The Eco Childs Play article is yet another attempt by environmentalists to politicize science by misrepresenting what the research says and the intent of the scientists are. While they were able to correlate pesticide use with lower IQ’s in kids, correlation is not causation. This isn’t the first time environmentalists have misrepresented or outright lied about the results of scientific research and, unfortunately, it will not be the last.

The green’s intent is clear if one understands the context of their activities with regard to pesticides and a host of other issues. Use an online publication to publish a story about a study in hopes of it getting reported in the press and then use the publicity as a means to scare the pubic into supporting banning them. The consequence of fewer is less effective means for people to fight off insect attacks on agricultural crop yields. This, in turn, results in not only reduced crop production for farms that will mean less food in circulation to feed humans resulting in death by starvation.