Pesticides taint one-fifth of kids' food.

Oct 21, 2010

Lu, C, FJ Schenck, MA Pearson and JW Wong. 2010. Assessing children’s dietary exposure- direct measurement of pesticide residues in 24-hour duplicate food samples. Environmental Health Perspectives http://dx.doi.org/10.1289/ehp.1002044.

Synopsis by Emily Barrett

Measures of pesticides eaten by American kids on a typical day find chemical contamination to be common, particularly among the most popular fruits and vegetables.

More than one-quarter of the food eaten by a small number of U.S. children contained pesticides, confirming again that food is a source of chemical exposures for youngsters. Researchers measured 14 varieties of pesticides in the fruits, vegetables and juices tested.

While many studies have measured levels of pesticides in various foodstuffs on grocery shelves and a few have looked at levels excreted from the body, little has been known about the level of pesticides found in the food that children actually consume. This study attempted to capture the pesticide levels of foods just as they were prepared and in the amounts eaten by the children.

It has long been known that pesticide exposure presents a health risk to infants and children. Food is one of the main sources of exposure.

Understanding dietary exposure to these chemicals is particularly important. High levels of pesticide exposure among fetuses and children have been linked to negative health effects ranging from increased rates of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) to increased blood pressure. In addition, recent research finds evidence of pesticide by-products in nearly 94 percent of children studied.

Previous work on pesticide exposure in children has been criticized for lack of direct measurement of the amount of pesticide contamination in the food consumed. In this new study, for one full day, parents provided an identical sample of every conventional fruit, vegetable and fruit juice their child consumed. The samples were prepared the same way, from the same batch and in the same amount. The researchers tested the samples for several types of pesticides. These 24-hour duplicate food samples show precisely how much pesticide residue actually entered the children's bodies through their food during that day.

Forty-six elementary school age children from Georgia and Washington states participated in the study for two to three days. Their parents collected a total of 239 non-organic food samples.

Nearly one-fifth of the food samples measured had at least one pesticide. Of those, more than one-quarter contained multiple pesticides in the same food sample.

In total, the food contained varying amounts of 14 different pesticides, including different organophosphates and pyrethroid insecticides. The pesticide levels tended to be in the range previously reported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Pesticide Data Program, although some measured levels were higher. The Pesticide Data Program estimates the average amount of pesticide contamination.

The researchers also bought and tested additional samples of the fresh fruits and vegetables most commonly eaten by the children. They found that more than 25 percent of these samples contained measurable pesticide residues. Approximately half of the fruits and vegetables were on the Environmental Working Group's 2009 Shopper's Guide to Pesticides, a list of the produce most contaminated with pesticides, including apples, strawberries, peaches and carrots.

Clearly, the diets of 46 children cannot convey an adequate snapshot of children's pesticide exposure nationwide, especially since the researchers detected regional differences in the types and amounts of pesticides. Nevertheless, the new study provides important evidence that children's diets are a very real source of pesticide exposure.