New York City residents have higher pesticide exposure

Oct 02, 2013

McKelvey W, JB Jacobson, D Kass, DB Barr, M Davis, AM Calafat, KM Aldous. 2013. Population-based biomonitoring of exposure to organophosphate and pyrethroid pesticides in New York City. Environmental Health Perspectives http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/1206015/

Synopsis by Lindsey Konkel

New York City residents are more highly exposed to two types of widely used pesticides than the U.S. average, according to a new study from the city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Tennessee Dept. of Agriculture

New York City residents are more highly exposed to two types of widely used pesticides than the U.S. average, according to a new study.

The findings “underscore the importance of considering pest and pesticide burdens in cities when formulating pesticide use regulations,” the researchers from the city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene wrote in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

Organophosphate metabolites were measured in the urine of 882 New Yorkers, while 1,452 residents were tested for pyrethroid metabolites. Some organophosphates have been banned in the United States in recent years, although many are still heavily used in agriculture. Pyrethroids are used indoors and outdoors in sprays and bug bombs to kill fleas, mosquitoes and other pests.

Among New Yorkers who were 20 to 59 years old in 2004, the highest exposed group had between two and six times more organophosphates in their urine than the highest exposed group in a national study. They also had between 1.7 and 2.4 times more pyrethroids than the nationwide group.

In previous studies in New York City and in a California farm area, prenatal exposure to organophosphates has been associated with reduced mental skills in children.

Less is known about the potential health effects of pyrethroids. Limited studies suggest that they “may adversely affect the reproductive system and developing nervous system,” the researchers wrote.

Hispanics and blacks, older residents, people who had pesticides professionally applied recently in their home and those who ate one or more pieces of fruit every day were more likely to have higher levels of organophosphates.

For pyrethroids, there were no major differences between the races or ages, suggesting widespread exposure. People who ate green vegetables had higher levels but the researchers said the differences “are relatively small and not likely to be biologically meaningful.”

New York’s densely packed living spaces may lead to high exposures of pesticides from indoor use, surmised the study authors. However, they didn’t collect information on housing characteristics or conditions.

The city’s health department has enacted local laws to prohibit the indoor use of certain pesticides and to promote integrated pest management, which focuses on improving sanitary and structural conditions to keep pests away.