chemicals-pregnancy-safety.jpgChlorpyrifos is an insecticide that used to be used in households in the US to kill insects in yards and gardens. People can no longer shop at the local home improvement store for Chlorpyrifos, but that doesn’t mean businesses across the world have stopped using the insecticide. Surprisingly, farmers use Chlorpyrifos on food products sold in the United States. When pregnant women are exposed to even the smallest amount of the chemical it can affect the fetus.

According to the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health, when a pregnant woman comes in contact with the chemical, it passes on to the fetus and brain development is negatively affected. The effects on the brain are irreversible and may cause cognitive problems later in life.

Researchers used an MRI scan to reveal physical changes in the brain associated with Chlorpyrifos exposure. MRI scans have been used in animal studies, but this is one of the first human studies to show physical changes associated with cognitive problems. The MRI shows thinning areas in some parts of the brain and bulky areas in other parts. The changes in the structure of the brain were consistent in terms of IQ measurements and developmental delays reported by patients included in the study.

Probably the most interesting part of the study found that the brain was affected by exposure levels lower than the EPA currently lists as dangerous. The EPA gauges exposure toxicity levels on how the chemical affects cholinesterase, an enzyme, but clearly, there are other means by which Chlorpyrifos (CPF) affects the physical development of the brain.

This study involves 40 children. Half of the children were exposed to high levels of CPF. The other half was exposed to generally low levels of the chemical. Children with higher exposure levels showed developmental problems. The size of the study leaves much to be desired, but a study of this size proves a need for larger studies on the same topic.

Source: Virginia A. Rauh, Frederica P. Perera, Megan K. Horton, Robin M. Whyatt, Ravi Bansal, Xuejun Hao, Jun Liu, Dana Boyd Barr, Theodore A. Slotkin, and Bradley S. Peterson. Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. 30 April, 2012.