floral industry

Those roses you just bought seem to be causing "silent pandemic" of learning deficits among pesticide-exposed kids

The science journal’s wording is antiseptic. And yet the underlying story is heart-rending: Children exposed to pesticides in the womb while their mothers raise flowers for export to the American market are turning up later with learning difficulties. And then finally the authors leave the medical talk behind and warn of a “silent pandemic.”

Here’s a key passage:

"Only children with prenatal exposure from maternal greenhouse work showed consistent deficits after covariate adjustment, which included stunting and socioeconomic variables. Exposure-related deficits were the strongest for motor speed… motor coordination… visuospatial performance… and visual memory. These associations corresponded to a developmental delay of 1.5-2 years."

Whoa! So because of our need for pretty flowers, a 6-year-old Ecuadorian kid might have the motor skills of a 4-year-old! The new study in Environmental Health Perspectives notes that the impacts – which included slightly raising the exposed kids’ blood pressure, as well – are present even though the pesticides didn’t hurt the mothers.

Lots of the flowers Americans buy are from Ecuador, especially roses, with only Colombia outpacing Ecuador in selling roses to the United States. (And I'm not guessing there are very heavy restrictions on pesticide use there, either.)

The whole study hasn’t been posted yet, but the abstract gives the relevant details: 84 kids in an Ecuadorian village that raises lots of flowers were tested for pesticides. And their parents were interviewed about their exposure to pesticides. The results: