Common pesticides sprayed on decorative flowers confirmed to cause serious neurological problems in children

The next time you want to “say it with flowers,” you may want to think twice. While bouquets are considered a heartfelt symbol of love and affection all around the world, new research revealed that they could be more harmful than they appear. A recent study published in NeuroToxicology found that cut flowers used in bouquets, particularly those grown in Ecuador, are sprayed with dangerous pesticides that can be linked to neurological problems in children, reported.

The study, done by researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, analyzed the neurological behaviors of children who did not work in agriculture but lived in agricultural communities in Ecuador. In particular, researchers administered blood and behavior tests to 308 children between the ages of four to nine. Testing was done before the peak of flower production for Mother’s Day, and 100 days after the harvest. The results of the study showed an association between short-term neurological problems in children and peak pesticide use during the flower harvest.

“Children examined sooner after the flower harvest displayed lower performance on most measures, such as attention, self-control, visuospatial [sic] processing (the ability to perceive and interact with our visual world) and sensorimotor (eye-hand coordination) compared to children examined later in a time of lower flower production and pesticide use,” said the study’s lead author Jose. R. Suarez-Lopez, MD, Ph.D.

Suarez-Lopez pointed out that their study’s findings are particularly worrying especially since peak pesticide season coincided with the children’s year-end exams. The short-term neurological changes may compromise their learning and academic performance, affecting their grades, which in turn may hinder their access to higher education or job opportunities.

The study mentioned that early exposure to common agricultural pesticides has been linked to longer-term neurobehavioral problems in children, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) — a mental disorder that is all too common among the youth, and often leaves diagnosed kids at the mercy of over-medication. According to the study, being exposed to pesticides had also been associated with developmental problems in reflexes, as well as psychomotor and mental functions in newborn babies.

The researchers mentioned organophosphate-based insecticides, which are commonly applied on flowers to get rid of pests before they are exported. They said that these pesticides inhibited an enzyme called acetylcholinesterase (AChE), which played a crucial role in the communications between nerve cells in the brain and body. Previous research by Suarez-Lopez and his colleagues associated lower AChE activity with lower attention spans, inhibitory control, and memory. In addition to that, the insecticides, according to the study, caused direct damage to neurons and glia, the cells that bring nutrients and oxygen to them.

Pesticide kills more than just pests

This case is only one of many that show just how harmful pesticides can be not just to agricultural workers who are directly exposed to them, but even to unsuspecting children who are only marginally exposed. According to the Toxics Action Center, pesticides are linked to many different health problems, some as simple as eye irritations, but many more as serious as cancer and other chronic diseases.

Cancers that are most associated with pesticide exposure include leukemia and non-Hodgkins lymphoma, as well as cancers affecting the brain and both male and female reproductive systems.

Pesticides are also linked to an increased risk for autism spectrum disorders, as well as endocrine disruption, which can lead to infertility and birth defects among others.

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