Pesticide exposure remains a health hazard despite extensive study into adverse effects. Children in vulnerable populations, such as Latinx children in farmworker families, are particularly at risk for exposure. Several studies have demonstrated the detrimental cognitive effects of prenatal exposure to pesticides, particularly organophosphates (OPs) within this high-risk group. However, results from studies investigating the cognitive effects of early childhood pesticide exposure are equivocal. Most studies examining the effects of pesticide exposure have used correlative analyses rather than examining populations with expected high and low exposure. The current study compares 8-year-old children from rural families of farmworkers and urban, non-farmworker families. We used the Weschler Intelligence Scale for Children - Fifth Edition (WISC-V) to assess cognitive performance in these children. We designed this study with the expectation that children from farmworker families would have greater exposure to agricultural pesticides than urban, non-farmworker children. This assumption of exposure to agricultural pesticides was confirmed in a recent report that assessed exposure probabilities using life history calendars. However, data from passive wristband sampling of acute (1-week) pesticide exposure from these same children indicate that both study populations have considerable pesticide exposure but to different chemicals. As expected the children of farmworkers had greater OP exposure than non-farmworker children, but the non-farmworker children had greater exposure to two other classes of insecticides (organochlorines [OCs] and pyrethroids). Our analyses considered these findings. A comparison of the cognitive scores between groups revealed that children from farmworker families had slightly higher performance on the Visual-Spatial Index (VSI) and Verbal Comprehension Index (VCI) when compared to children from non-farmworker families. Regression analyses where pesticide exposure was included as covariates revealed that OC exposure accounted for the largest portion of the group differences for both VSI and VCI. However, a post-hoc moderation analysis did not find significant interactions. The main study outcome was that the non-farmworker children exhibited lower WISC-V scores than the children from farmworker families, and the analyses incorporating pesticide exposure measures raise the hypothesis the that pervasive and persistent nature of a variety of pesticides may have adverse effects on the neurodevelopment of young Latinx children whether living in rural or non-farmworker environments.
Keywords: Children; Cognition; Organochlorine pesticide; Organophosphates; WISC-V.
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