Research to estimate pesticides' effects on children

Give an infant a stuffed teddy bear and before long she'll be nibbling on its ears, nose and feet. After all, biting, tasting and touching are all part of the normal growing up process.

But as children begin to explore their surroundings, they inevitably come in contact with a wide array of potentially harmful substances -- from paints to pesticides -- that can be swallowed, inhaled and even absorbed through the skin. Although the accumulation of hazardous chemicals in the body can have harmful effects on development and behavior, determining the amount of toxic exposure in a child is still largely a matter of guesswork.

To address this problem, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has awarded Professor James O. Leckie a three-year, $541,000 grant to develop a scientific way to accurately estimate pesticide exposure among children -- especially the sons and daughters of California farmworkers.

The grant is a direct result of the 1996 Food Quality Protection Act, which required the EPA to re-evaluate the health effects of commercial and household pesticides on children. Of particular concern to EPA regulators is determining how pesticide exposure affects agricultural households, where children often live in proximity to poisonous agrochemicals.

"We've been working in the area of exposure analysis for about 10 years," said Leckie, the C. L. Peck, Class of 1906, Professor in the School of Engineering. "The new EPA grant builds on mathematical models that we developed using methodologies that are, in a sense, revolutionary."

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One novel technique developed by Leckie and his research team is to videotape individual children at home -- a method designed to document and quantify a child's real-life exposure to pesticide residues.

"We videotape kids for periods of up to eight hours to see what they touch and to determine their hand-to-mouth and object-to-mouth activity," he said. "By

Contact: Mark Shwartz
Stanford University

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