Background: Pyrethroid pesticides cause abnormalities in the dopamine system and produce an ADHD phenotype in animal models, with effects accentuated in males versus females. However, data regarding behavioral effects of pyrethroid exposure in children is limited. We examined the association between pyrethroid pesticide exposure and ADHD in a nationally representative sample of US children, and tested whether this association differs by sex.
Methods: Data are from 8-15 year old participants (N = 687) in the 2001-2002 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Exposure was assessed using concurrent urinary levels of the pyrethroid metabolite 3-phenoxybenzoic acid (3-PBA). ADHD was defined by either meeting Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-Fourth Edition criteria on the Diagnostic Interview Schedule for Children (DISC) or caregiver report of a prior diagnosis. ADHD symptom counts were determined via the DISC. Multivariable logistic regression examined the link between pyrethroid exposure and ADHD, and poisson regression investigated the link between exposure and ADHD symptom counts.
Results: Children with urinary 3-PBA above the limit of detection (LOD) were twice as likely to have ADHD compared with those below the LOD (adjusted odds ratio [aOR] 2.42; 95 % confidence interval [CI] 1.06, 5.57). Hyperactive-impulsive symptoms increased by 50 % for every 10-fold increase in 3-PBA levels (adjusted count ratio 1.50; 95 % CI 1.03, 2.19); effects on inattention were not significant. We observed possible sex-specific effects: pyrethroid biomarkers were associated with increased odds of an ADHD diagnosis and number of ADHD symptoms for boys but not girls.
Conclusions: We found an association between increasing pyrethroid pesticide exposure and ADHD which may be stronger for hyperactive-impulsive symptoms compared to inattention and in boys compared to girls. Given the growing use of pyrethroid pesticides, these results may be of considerable public health import.