Banned for indoor use since 2001, the effects of the common insecticide known as chlorpyrifos can still be found in the brains of young children now approaching puberty.
A new study used magnetic imaging to reveal that those children exposed to chlorpyrifos in the womb had persistent changes in their brains throughout childhood.
The brains of 20 children exposed to higher levels of chlorpyrifos in their mother’s blood (as measured by serum from the umbilical cord) “looked different” compared to those exposed to lower levels of the chemical, says epidemiologist Virginia Rauh of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, who led the research published online by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on April 30. “During brain development some type of disturbance took place.”
The 6 young boys and 14 little girls, whose mothers were exposed to chlorpyrifos when it was commonly used indoors in bug sprays prior to the ban, ranged in age from seven to nearly 10. All came from Dominican or African American families in the New York City region. Compared to 20 children from the same kinds of New York families who had relatively low levels of chlorpyrifos in umbilical cord blood, the 20 higher dose kids had protuberances in some regions of the cerebral cortex and thinning in other regions. “There were measurable volumetric changes in the cerebral cortex,” Rauh notes.
Though the study did not map specific disorders associated with any of these brain changes, the regions affected are associated with functions like attention, decision-making, language, impulse control and working memory. The “structural anomalies in the brain could be a mechanism, or explain why we found cognitive deficits in children” in previous studies, Rauh notes.