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Pesticides Linked to|Kids’ Lung Troubles

(CN) - Scientists studying children in California's Salinas Valley have linked a decrease in lung function to exposure to commonly used agricultural pesticides called organophosphates, according to a University of California Berkeley study.

Researchers examined 279 children in the Salinas Valley from birth and found an 8 percent decrease on average in the amount of air a child could expel by the age of seven. The study, published Dec. 3 in the journal Thorax, compares the decrease in lung function to secondhand-smoke exposure from their mother.

Researchers measured organophosphate levels in the children through periodic urine samples collected over a five-year period and then gave them a final spirometry test at age seven to measure the amount of air they could exhale.

Rachel Raanan, a researcher who worked on the study, said the results showed each tenfold increase in concentrations of organophosphate metabolites was associated with a 159-milliliter decrease in lung function. Salinas is a farming hub and numerous agricultural operations reside in the area, including Dole, Chiquita and Fresh Express. More than 70 percent of the world's lettuce is grown in the Salinas Valley, which is also California's largest grower of chardonnay grapes.

The pesticides monitored in the UC Berkeley study are used in the farming of lettuce, strawberries, broccoli and other crops. The class of farm pesticides has long been linked to neurological diseases and acute exposure can cause headaches and nausea.

Use of organophosphates has plummeted since the UC Berkeley study began in 2000, when nearly 6.4 million pounds were used, compared with 3.5 million pounds in 2013, according to the study. Residential use of the pesticide was banned by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2001, and the Berkeley study was the first to gauge the impact of organophosphates on youth lung function.

On Thursday the EPA was ordered by a Ninth Circuit judge to respond to a petition asking for a ban on the popular organophosphate chlorpyrifos by Dec. 30, 2016. Chlorpyrifos, introduced in 1965, is widely used to control pests that threaten more than 60 crops including almonds, walnuts, oranges, cotton and grapes.

The study recommends keeping children away from farms being sprayed with pesticides and parents to remove work boots and clothes before going inside their homes.

Raanan said chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, is increasing as a cause of death worldwide and that identifying environmental exposures and threats early can prevent the disease.

"Our kids had reduced breathing capacity that might make it a bit more difficult to play sports. If the reduced lung function persisted into adulthood, it would leave our participants at greater risk of developing COPD," Raanan said in an email.

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