Pin Me

Effects of the Pesticides Used in the EU and US on the Human Brain

written by: Rose Kivi•edited by: Niki Fears•updated: 6/24/2010

Scientist's urge government officials in the United States and the European Union to re-evaluate the safety of pesticides. Numerous studies may link brain damage and behavioral problems to pesticide exposure.

  • slide 1 of 2

    Scientific research shows that pesticide exposure in humans may cause damage to the brain. Children are at a higher risk than adults from pesticide exposure. Their immature metabolisms cannot process the chemicals out of their systems as well as an adult’s metabolism can. Fetuses and young children seem to be most affected. Pesticide exposure has been linked to behavioral problems and brain damage in young children and fetuses. Many pesticides are neurotoxins that are designed to damage an insect’s nervous system. According to Professor Philippe Grandjean from the Environmental Health Department at Harvard University in Southern Denmark, the human nervous system is similar to an insect’s nervous system. Meaning the human brain may be harmed by a pesticide designed to harm an insect's nervous system.

    Scientists in both the United States and the European Union are concerned about the effects to the human brain caused by pesticides. In the United States, the Pesticide Action Network (PAN) is urging the Environmental Protection Agency to ban the use of harmful pesticides. PAN evaluated data from a 2003 report of the CDC that showed that one-hundred percent of people tested had detectable levels of pesticides in their blood and urine. Data evaluated by the Harvard School of Public Health and the University of Southern Denmark showed that pesticides used on food crops in the European Union may harm the brains of children and fetuses.

    Safety testing of pesticides is often conducted by the pesticide manufacturers who claim that their products are safe to use and do not pose any harm to humans when used as directed. Environmental scientists disagree. Scientist’s say that pesticide testing done by manufacturers, does not test for effects on the brain. There are numerous scientific studies that raise concern over the use of pesticides, including the potential harm they can cause to the human brain. The following studies are just a small sample of the available research.

    A study conducted at the Missouri Department of Health and the University of California-Berkeley found that children who were exposed to household pesticides were five times more likely to develop brain cancer.

    Even one exposure to a low dose of organophosphates during critical brain development of a fetus can result in permanent brain changes that result in behavioral problems. [Natural Resources Defense Council, November 2000, p. 57 (74)]

    Wayne Portor of the University of Wisconsin concluded after evaluating data that children who lived in areas where they were exposed to pesticides, exhibited less hand eye coordination and motor skill development. [Environmental Health Perspectives, June 1998]

  • slide 2 of 2

    To learn more about risks associated with pesticide exposure, visit the following websites:

    PAN International

    Harvard School of Public Health - Professor Philippe Grandjean