, March 24, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: North Dakota farm children exposed to pesticides performed significantly lower than their peers on IQ tests, a new study has found.]

By Patrick Springer, The Forum

North Dakota farm children exposed to pesticides performed significantly lower than their peers in IQ tests, according to preliminary results of a study released Thursday.

Researchers at the University of North Dakota studied two groups of children in the northern Red River Valley, one group living on or near an active farm or field, another living at least a mile away from those locations.

Children living on or near farms tested an average of five points lower on standard IQ tests, said Patricia Moulton, an experimental psychologist at UND.

"That's a significant difference," she said.

The average intelligence score for the farm children was 98, still within the range considered normal, 85 to 115. But it was well below the average IQ score of 103 for the group with lower chronic exposures to pesticides, Moulton said.

Each group was comprised of 64 children, a number determined to be statistically sound, ages 7 to 12.

Children living on farms also had lower scores in verbal comprehension, visual perceptual reasoning, memory and mental processing speed, the study found.

The study, funded by a branch of the National Institutes of Health, will go on to determine whether there is a correlation between the level of exposure to pesticides and performance on memory, intelligence and other mental functions.

"That's just the raw IQ," Moulton said of findings presented to the Dakota Conference on Rural and Public Health. "We're going to look at a dose-response relationship. We're going to be able to associate the test scores with (pesticide) concentrations in the blood and urine."

Two earlier studies also found that children living in areas with active pesticide use had lower scores in mental performance tests, but those studies did not take into account level of exposure.

Moulton and her research partner, Thomas Petros, also an experimental psychologist at UND, hope to expand their study on pesticide and mental performance by testing farm children throughout North Dakota, with testing year-round.

"We had a huge response to the study," she said. "The farm families were massively interested in the study."

The study is an offshoot of a large epidemiological study that UND researchers are conducting on chronic pesticide exposure and degenerative brain diseases including Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and multiple sclerosis.

"I'm not advocating that we get rid of pesticides, because they're very important to farming," Moulton said. Instead, she advocates a "happy medium," by using non-toxic pesticides whenever possible and taking more steps to decrease exposure.

Copyright 2006 Forum Communications Co. Fargo, ND 58102