A pilot study found air samples in the Hidalgo County homes of pregnant Hispanic women contained levels of household pesticides that could harm fetuses and young children, a researcher said Friday.
The first study of its kind conducted in South Texas found traces of both household and agricultural pesticides that have been linked to disorders such as autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, said Beatriz Tapia, M.D., the study’s lead author and a lecturer at the University of Texas Health Science Center’s Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen.
“There is a lack of awareness in terms of the health hazards that these toxic (household) pest control methods present,” said Tapia, who in addition to being a medical doctor holds a master’s in public health. “These are common chemicals we use over-the-counter. If they had knowledge about how this affects their children, they would probably not use it.”
Findings of the survey of 25 urban and rural homes in Hidalgo County were published in the current issue of the Texas Public Health Journal, Tapia said.
The article is the first clinical research publication to come out of the Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen, researchers said.
The study was conducted by the School of Medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, which includes the RAHC campus in Harlingen.
The study found prevalent use of household pesticide sprays, Tapia said.
“Increasingly, pesticide exposures are linked to neurodevelopment disorders such as autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder,” said Claudia S. Miller, M.D., the study’s co-author who is a professor of environmental and occupational medicine. “Planning for pregnancy today should include not only prenatal vitamins and a good diet but also avoiding potentially hazardous pesticides.”
The study verified conclusions of a larger 2007 survey that found household pesticide levels were higher than desirable in the homes of 102 pregnant minority women in New York City, Tapia said.
The Harlingen study found similar pesticide levels in both urban and rural homes, Tapia said.
The local study also found that 12 percent of homes surveyed contained traces of agricultural pesticides, said Tapia. She said the New York study didn’t test for agricultural chemicals.
The Harlingen study found traces of at least five pesticides in 60 percent of the 25 homes, Tapia said. Levels of nine other pesticides were found in less than one-third of homes, she said.
The study found 92 percent of air samples contained o-phenylphenol, which is used as a fungicide, germicide and household disinfectant, while 80 percent of samples contained chlorpyrifos, used in agriculture to kill mosquitoes and other pests, researchers said.
Propoxur, found in such products as granular baits and pet collars, was detected in 76 percent of samples; the insecticide diazinon was found in 72 percent; and the herbicide trifluralin was found in 60 percent, researchers said.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2000 banned homeowner use of chlorpyrifos, except in ant and roach baits in child-resistant packaging, researchers said. The agency banned residential use of diazinon in 2004, they said.
Researchers, who urged the use of household pesticide methods other than spraying, suggested less toxic pest control techniques such as the caulking of windows and doors; installation of door and window screens; and the use of boric acid.
“What we found is there is a true need to educate our families about other methods,” Tapia said.
The pilot study will spur further research, she said.
“We want to definitely look into future studies that can tell us about affects of these pesticides in children in South Texas,” Tapia said.
The Harlingen study surveyed 25 Hidalgo County women who responded to a flyer that sought women in their third trimester of pregnancy to participate in an unspecified study, Tapia said. The Hispanic women from two maternity clinics ranged from 18 to 35 years of age and had no serious medical conditions, researchers said.
Researchers asked the women questions about pesticide use and exposure, proximity to agricultural fields, the frequency of spraying operations, and the detection of pesticide odors drifting from fields. - Fernando Del Valle, Valley Morning Star