Winter Groceries, Pesticides, and Kids

How does kids’ pesticide exposure vary over the course of a year? To answer this question, Dr. Chensheng (Alex) Lu and colleagues at Emory University and the CDC followed a small group of suburban Washington children, aged 3 to 11, who ate a conventional suburban diet.

They sampled their urine for evidence of organophosphate (OP) pesticides twice daily for a week or more in each of the four seasons. OP pesticides have been linked to neurodevelopment concerns both in animals and in children.

Strikingly, in this study there was a seasonal pattern to the OP pesticide exposure, with levels during the winter and spring higher per amount of produce than in the summer and fall seasons.

We know from USDA testing that imported produce such as grapes and tomatoes often have more OP insecticides, even after they have been washed. Probably the majority of imported grapes, tomatoes, and other fresh produce is consumed in the US during the winter and spring season.

In this study, as in previous studies chronicled by The Organic Center, the children were given 5-day holidays from their regular diets, where they got mostly organic versions of what they had been eating previously. None of the samples of organic food tested contained OP pesticide residues. During these windows of mostly organic eating, the evidence of OP pesticides in children’s urine virtually disappeared.

These findings suggest that the diet is the main source of exposure to these pesticides for kids. Eating food that is local, organic, or in season could greatly decrease this pesticide exposure – and may be especially important in the winter and spring.

Lu C, Barr DB, Pearson MA, Waller LA. 2008. Dietary Intake and Its Contribution to Longitudinal Organophosphorus Pesticide Exposure in Urban/Suburban Children Environ Health Perspect: doi:10.1289/ehp.10912. [Online 15 January 2008]

Published on: January 31, 2008
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Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
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