If a child eats conventionally grown produce, will it affect his or her health? Recent research revealed that pesticides do show up in the urine of children after consuming non-organic foods. Though the study did not look at whether or not some of the chemicals stay in the tissues and cause damage, other research says they do.
Researchers from the University of Washington in Seattle and Emory University in Atlanta, headed by Chensheng Lu, tested urine samples from 21 children in the Seattle area who ate conventionally grown foods and then ate similar organic varieties for five days, before returning to seven more days of conventional foods. To be extra certain, the organic foods were tested and found to be free of chemicals.
Urine samples were collected twice daily for a period of 7, 12, or 15 consecutive days during each of the four seasons. It was found that levels of organophosphates, a family of pesticides resulting from the creation of nerve gas agents in World War II, could be identified in the urine during the time conventional produce was eaten. Within eight to 36 hours after switching to organic versions, the pesticides in the urine disappeared.
Previous studies have found a correlation between pesticides and neurological problems in the brains of rats. Dr. Theodore Slotkin of North Carolina’s Duke University has written up the results of several such studies. He found that brain development and behavior were both negatively impacted after exposure to organophosphates, especially chlorpyrifos, one of the pesticides in the recent study.
Andrew Schneider, writing in the Seattle P.I. quotes Lu, who says “more research must be done into the harm these pesticides may do to children, even at the low levels found on food… In animal and few human studies, we know chlorpyrifos inhibits an enzyme that transmits a signal in the brain so the body can function properly. Unfortunately, that’s all we know.
“It is appropriate to assume that if we – human beings – are exposed to (this class of) pesticides, even though it’s a low-level exposure on a daily basis, there are going to be some health concerns down the road,” said Lu, who is on the Environmental Protection Agency’s pesticide advisory panel.
We do know that toxins affect children differently than adults, as they are still developing and are thus more fragile neurologically. Some pesticides contain potent neurotoxicants, which work by disrupting an organism’s nervous system. There are studies which have found that exposure to pesticides affects growth and neurological development. So it would seem very likely that ingestion of pesticide residue in young children especially would lead to negative effects on health and development. At the very least, there must be an effect to the liver and kidneys for the extra work they are forced to do.
Consider what a teacher’s curriculum guide from Yale University states:
“-A young child’s renal system is not fully developed. For example, a newborn’s kidneys are immature compared to an adult’s, making it more difficult for the infant to eliminate toxic waste. This can lead to a greater buildup and increases their vulnerability.
-A young child’s brain, nervous system, immune system, and other organ systems are still developing and are therefore most susceptible to abnormalities and malfunctions.
-When children are exposed to toxins, there is more time for resulting damage to occur than when adults are exposed. To elaborate, if a series of events have to occur before the toxic effects of chemicals present, then it is more likely that those events will occur someday if the children are exposed early in life as opposed to exposure much later.
-Due to the rapid cell growth in children, they appear to be more susceptible to some carcinogens than adults are.”
Because of such concerns, the Food Quality Protection Act required that by 2006, the EPA was to complete a comprehensive reassessment of the 9,721 pesticides permitted for use. They were to determine safe levels of pesticide residues for all food products.
Even though this law’s passage resulted in a lowering of pesticide amounts applied to foods intended for children, many critics still consider the levels too high for safety. The other concern is that there are no restrictions on imported foods.
This effect was born out by the study, as higher levels of pesticides were found in the children’s urine in the fall and winter, when consumers rely more on imported fruits and vegetables.
Other critics point out that because of this and the EPA’s too lenient restrictions, more needs to be done. They state that it only makes sense to strengthen the limits on such exposure to pesticides at a time when children are evidencing more behavior, learning and neurological problems.
According to Schneider, Lu does not believe children should only eat organic. For Lu’s family, which includes two sons, about 60 percent of the diet is organic. “‘Consumers,’ he says, ‘should be encouraged to buy produce direct from the farmers they know. These need not be just organic farmers, but conventional growers who minimize their use of pesticides.’”
To help consumers make choices as to which foods to buy as organic, the Environmental Workers Group produced a ranking. In this list, the higher the item is ranked, the lower the amount of pesticides to be found in that item. So if a family can only buy some organic produce, the priority would be peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, nectarines and strawberries, etc.
The Full List: 43 Fruits & Veggies
RANK FRUIT OR VEGGIE SCORE
1(worst) Peaches 100 (highest pesticide load)
2 Apples 96
3 Sweet Bell Peppers 86
4 Celery 85
5 Nectarines 84
6 Strawberries 83
7 Cherries 75
8 Lettuce 69
9 Grapes – Imported 68
10 Pears 65
11 Spinach 60
12 Potatoes 58
13 Carrots 57
14 Green Beans 55
15 Hot Peppers 53
16 Cucumbers 52
17 Raspberries 47
18 Plums 46
19 Oranges 46
20 Grapes – Domestic 46
21 Cauliflower 39
22 Tangerine 38
23 Mushrooms 37
24 Cantaloupe 34
25 Lemon 31
26 Honeydew Melon 31
27 Grapefruit 31
28 Winter Squash 31
29 Tomatoes 30
30 Sweet Potatoes 30
31 Watermelon 25
32 Blueberries 24
33 Papaya 21
34 Eggplant 19
35 Broccoli 18
36 Cabbage 17
37 Bananas 16
38 Kiwi 14
39 Asparagus 11
40 Sweet Peas-Frozen 11
41 Mango 9
42 Pineapples 7
43 Sweet Corn-Frozen 2
44 Avocado 1
45 (best) Onions 1 (lowest pesticide load)
Note: A total of 44 different fruits and vegetables were ranked, but grapes are listed twice because they looked at both domestic and imported samples. – Pesticides in Produce by Environmental Working Group
I think anything above a 28 score should be eaten organically.