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January 29, 1998

Overexposed || Organophosphate Insecticides in Children's Food: Conclusions

American children are routinely exposed to unsafe levels of OP insecticides in the food they eat. On any given day we estimate that more than one million children under age six exceed federal safety standards for OPs. One hundred thousand of these children exceed these same standards by a factor of 10 or more. The potential public health impact of these exposures is substantial, but as yet is not precisely understood.

For perspective, it is helpful to view the situation with OPs through the lens of experience with lead. For years lead was known to be toxic, but its special hazards to children, while suspected, were difficult to confirm. Only recently has science been able to bring into focus the subtle, yet profound learning deficits that result when infants and children are exposed to levels of lead that are perfectly safe for adults, and that were thought, until recently to be safe for children as well.

In some ways, the situation with OPs may be worse than lead because significant numbers of infants and children receive daily doses of multiple OPs that far exceed the safe dose for an adult. It is probable that these high OP exposures early in life are causing long term functional and learning deficits that scientists are just beginning to understand.

Given this overwhelming evidence of unsafe exposure to organophosphate insecticides in the diet, EPA has little choice but to act to protect infants and children. The solution to the problem of unsafe levels of OPs in food, however, is not for children to eat less fruits and vegetables. Infants, children and pregnant women should be able to eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables without any concern about short term illness or long term brain and nervous system damage that may result from unsafe levels of OP pesticides on these foods. The solution is to rid these healthful foods of the most toxic pesticides.