Environmental Health 2008, 7:50doi:10.1186/1476-069X-7-50
|Published:||22 October 2008|
Pesticides used in agriculture are designed to protect crops against unwanted species, such as weeds, insects, and fungus. Many compounds target the nervous system of insect pests. Because of the similarity in brain biochemistry, such pesticides may also be neurotoxic to humans. Concerns have been raised that the developing brain may be particularly vulnerable to adverse effects of neurotoxic pesticides. Current requirements for safety testing do not include developmental neurotoxicity. We therefore undertook a systematic evaluation of published evidence on neurotoxicity of pesticides in current use, with specific emphasis on risks during early development. Most epidemiologic confirmation deals with mixed exposures to pesticides. Laboratory experimental studies using model compounds suggest that many pesticides currently used in Europe - including organophosphates, carbamates, pyrethroids, ethylenebisdithiocarbamates, and chlorophenoxy herbicides - can cause neurodevelopmental toxicity. Adverse effects on brain development can be severe and irreversible. Prevention should therefore be a public health priority. The occurrence of residues in food and other types of human exposures should be prevented with regard to the pesticide groups that are known to be neurotoxic. For other substances, given their widespread use and the unique vulnerability of the developing brain, the general lack of data on developmental neurotoxicity calls for investment in targeted research. While awaiting more definite evidence, existing uncertainties should be evaluated in regard to the need for precautionary action to protect brain development.