Like most 1 year olds, my youngest boy loves to taste-test anything and everything he finds in his path as he crawls and walks about our home. Keeping the floor clean with regular vacuuming is something we strive for but don’t always achieve in our hectic lifestyle with a young family of five. Although, having read some of the recent reports on common exposure sources of organophosphates in preparation for writing this blog, and their potential detrimental effects on infant neurodevelopment, I may have found that little extra impetus I need to stay on top of the vacuum cleaning.
As researchers from the Center for Environmental Research and Children’s Health at the University of California reported in the March issue of this year’s Environmental Health journal, good old house dust is a common reservoir for organophosphates (OP). OPs represent a large group of insecticides commonly used in the US for insect control on food crops and for pest control in residential and commercial areas.
As we have highlighted in our recent blogs, young children are particularly vulnerable to adverse health effects that may result from exposure to environmental chemicals such as OPs. For example, in utero and/or postnatal, chronic exposures to OPs have been associated with poorer neurodevelopment in children, altered fetal growth and shortened gestational duration. But the studies reporting these effects were assessing subjects with chronic exposure. What do we make of the average Joe whose work or home is not directly linked with OP use and exposure? Does my wife’s nagging about vacuuming really have any grounds for reducing the average exposure to OPs?
Well… this issue was addressed in part in a landmark study published last year in the June issue of Pediatrics. Unlike previous studies, this study was the first one to look at links between children's neurodevelopment and OP exposure in a group of children with no particular pesticide exposure. In what was described as a “ground-breaking study”, children found to have higher levels of OP pesticide metabolites in their urine were more likely to have attention-deficit/hyperactivity (ADHD) than children with lower levels.
The six urinary metabolites that were measured were the exact same ones featured on the new Metametrix Organophosphates Profile. These six metabolites are the most common ones resulting from the degradation of different OPs.
The findings of the study were not a total surprise as the efficacy of OP pesticides is known to result from their toxic effects on the central nervous system of insects. In fact, OPs disrupt the activity of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter implicated in ADHD.
But back to my vacuum cleaning, how neurotic do I need to be? Researchers from the University of California point out in their article that OPs have chemical properties that increase their binding affinity for particles and the tendency to adsorb into household surfaces such as carpet or dust, which tends to prolong their persistence in indoor environments.
Thankfully my youngest boy is not displaying any ADHD tendencies yet! But if you have an infant who is, you might want to join me in safeguarding your child with regular vacuum cleaning to keep the dust at bay and perhaps consider taking the Metametrix Organophosphate Profile to check exposure levels. Happy vacuuming – your partner (and kids) will thank you for it!
- Quirós-Alcalá L, et al. Pesticides in house dust from urban and farmworker households in California: an observational measurement study. Environmental Health. 2011;10:19.
- Bouchard MF, et al. Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and urinary metabolites of organophosphate pesticides. Pediatrics. 2010;125(6):e2170-2077.