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Pesticide Exposure in Womb Linked to Lower IQ

Studies Show Kids Exposed in Pregnancy May Also Have Later Problems With Attention and Memory

What the Findings Mean continued...

The second caution is that the studies were under way before the EPAs ban on residential use took effect, so it’s hard to know if the results are reflective of levels seen in homes today.

Still, researchers say that based on their investigations, a significant portion of the exposures was probably coming through pesticides eaten on fruits and vegetables.

“It is decreasing, but it is ongoing,” says study researcher Brenda Eskenazi, professor of epidemiology and of maternal and child health at the University of California, Berkeley.

The EPA is reviewing the restrictions on organophosphates to see if they are tight enough to protect public health.

Many feel the current regulations fall short.

“There are 10 million pounds of chlorpyrifos actually currently still being used annually,” says Rauh.

What Consumers Can Do

Experts say consumers can lower their exposure to organophosphates in several ways.

“These findings make it all the more urgent for people to buy organic fruits and vegetables whenever they can afford to do so,” Landrigan says. “It’s been very clearly shown, in studies conducted by CDC, that organic fruits and vegetables have 90% less pesticides than so-called conventionally grown.”

What’s more, Landrigan tells WebMD, “The CDC studies have shown that if people switch over to organic, the organophosphate pesticides are gone from their bodies in just a few days. These chemicals wash out quickly, and you can bring about change very fast.”

If organic fruits and vegetables are unavailable or too expensive, washing produce can definitely make a difference.

It’s more important for pregnant women to get the nutrition benefits of eating fruits and vegetables, Eskenazi says, than stop eating them because they’re afraid of pesticide residues.

“We want to absolutely make sure that pregnant women eat their fruits and vegetables but wash them extremely well, and that means using a scrub brush if necessary,” she says.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regularly tests and reports levels and kinds of pesticides found on washed or peeled fruits and vegetables.

Based on the latest available data, the Environmental Working Group, which analyzed the USDA’s data, finds that these are the fruits and vegetables that have the highest and lowest levels of organophosphate pesticides:

Highest Levels:

  • Green Beans (most residues detected)
  • Peaches
  • Sweet bell peppers
  • Celery
  • Nectarines
  • Pears
  • Apples
  • Blueberries
  • Cherries
  • Collard greens
  • Grapes
  • Kale

Lowest levels:

  • Sweet corn and onions (tied -- cleanest)
  • Pineapples
  • Grapefruit
  • Bananas
  • Oranges
  • Cauliflower
  • Potatoes
  • Winter squash
  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Summer squash
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