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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Emerging Science Note/Toxin Dangers

Air Date: Week of

Living on Earth’s Cynthia Graber reports that when two common pesticides were taken out of home use, infant birth weight increased.


CURWOOD: Just ahead: Yes, we have no bananas – but we do have a story about how this fruit became the world’s most successful crop, and efforts underway to keep it from going extinct. First, this Note on Emerging Science from Cynthia Graber.


GRABER: For decades, the pesticides chlorpyrifos and diazinon were sprayed inside homes, primarily to kill roaches. But they proved dangerous to human health and a few years ago, the EPA phased out home use. Now, scientists at Columbia University say the insecticides lead to lower birth weight and smaller newborns.

In 1998, the researchers began following a group of 314 pregnant women in New York City to gauge the effects of toxins on infants. They tested the blood levels of the newborns and found that a third of these babies had extremely high levels of both chemicals in their bodies. Those babies were on average six and a half ounces lighter and a third of an inch shorter than babies with no measurable levels of the chemicals.

The EPA banned these pesticides for home use while the study was already underway. After the chemicals were fully phased out of New York homes, almost all babies were born larger and heavier. Scientists say they’ll follow these children to see if the pesticides affect their development. They also caution that these chemicals are still being used extensively on farms, and children born to farm workers may be affected.

That’s this week’s Note on Emerging Science, I’m Cynthia Graber.

CURWOOD: And you’re listening to Living on Earth.

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[MUSIC: Ale Moller “Sprakfale (The Frisky Steed) THE HORSE AND THE CRANE (Northside Records – 1999)]



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