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Pesticides Hurt Children’s Lungs as much as Maternal Secondhand Smoking, Study Finds

Update Date: Dec 04, 2015 04:43 PM EST

Children who are exposed to agricultural pesticides early on in life can have impaired lung capacity, a new study reported.

"This is the first evidence suggesting that children exposed to organophosphates have poorer lung function," study senior author Brenda Eskenazi, a professor of epidemiology and of maternal and child health at the University of California, Berkeley, said according to HealthDay (via WebMD).

In this study, Eskenazi and her colleagues collected urine samples from 279 young children on five separate occasions. The children were between six-months and five-years-old, and were from Salinas Valley in California. All of the urine samples were tested for organophosphate levels. When the children turned seven, the researchers tested their ability to take and release deep breaths of air.

The team discovered that for every 10-fold increase in a child's organophosphate level, there was a decrease of about eight percent in the amount of air that the child could exhale. This meant that children with high exposure levels might have a harder time being active, which is important for health. The researchers noted that if these effects continue to exist, the children could have a higher risk of developing respiratory problems in adulthood.

This effect on the children's lung capacity was similar to the effect that secondhand smoking from mothers have. The researchers had accounted for factors such as lung health, air pollution, mold, pets and smoking status of the mothers.

"Remember these kids aren't farmworkers," Eskenazi said. "We know that this population is somewhat more exposed than the general U.S. population, but what we're seeing from children in these areas may also have implications for residue in food."

She added, "Given they are still used worldwide, we believe our findings deserve further attention."

The study was published in the journal, Thorax.

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