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Pesticide Exposure Hinders Mental Development Among Farmers' Children
(Beyond Pesticides, May 5, 2004)
A new study reveals serious mental development disorders that range from severely impaired analytical abilities, motor skills, concentration and memory among the children in the chemical-intensive cotton belts of India. The multi-centric, cross-sectional study, Arrested Development, released by Greenpeace India in April, examined the mental health development of children (4-5 years and 9-13 years) from 18 villages in six states of India chosen for their high levels of pesticide consumption.

"When we started this study, we knew we were likely to find unsettling evidence of children damaged by pesticides," said Kavitha Kuruganti, Principal Investigator of the study, "But the results of a systematic, nation-wide study were far more shocking than we expected. 898 children from backgrounds as diverse as Tamil Nadu and Punjab who have nothing in common but their exposure to pesticides, also share the inability to perform simple play-based exercises - like catching a ball or assembling a jigsaw puzzle - simply because they've been exposed to pesticides over a period of time."

The study, using a Rapid Assessment Tool (RAT), helped researchers document the abilities of children and assess their development against standard indicators. These results were then compared with the results of a control group of children belonging to similar demographic groups but less exposed to pesticides. In every state, the study found the control group children consistently performed far better than the pesticides-exposed children. In the case of four to five year old children, the pesticides-exposed children performed worse than the control group in 86% of the tests. In the older age group of nine to 13 year olds, this percentage was still as high 84.2%.

The study results parallel the findings of Dr. Elizabeth Guillette who studied the children of the Yaqui Valley, one of Mexico's largest agricultural areas, providing much of North America's fruits and vegetables, and have had high pesticide use since the 1950s. Dr. Guillette's study, "An Anthropological Approach to the Evaluation of Preschool Children Exposed to Pesticides," compared these children to those of a town in the foothills, which is nearly identical except it has no agricultural industry and virtually no pesticide use. The children exhibited significant and disturbing neurological differences; the valley children are far behind those of the foothills in physical coordination, energy and learning capabilities.

"The pesticide industry has constantly tried to muzzle scientific and medical data that exposes their crimes. It is atrocious how easily the pesticides industry has managed to manipulate data and bury the memory of the crippled children of Kasargod. The children represented in our study are even more vulnerable, given the invisible nature of the damage inflicted upon them," says Divya Raghunandan, Greenpeace campaigner, "The impacts may be invisible, but cannot be ignored. We will use this study to fight the pesticides industry at two levels - on one hand, confront them with their liabilities, on the other hand, motivate farmers throughout the country to reject pesticides. How much more must they endure before these profit-seekers are punished?"

"North Eastern states like Sikkim and Mizoram have already recognized the risks of using pesticides and declared themselves 'organic states.' Meanwhile, this study establishes that the pesticides industry is accountable to generations of children being insidiously poisoned by pesticides," says Chandrasekar, from SIRPI (the Tamil Nadu project partner for this study). "This study will show farmers the real price they have been forced to pay for succumbing to the marketing tactics of pesticides manufacturers."

In light of the findings of the study, Greenpeace raised the following demands:

  • Greenpeace calls upon the Indian government to immediately ban manufacture and sale of all Class1 a, 1b, Class II and neurotoxic pesticides, including pesticides banned in developed world as a first step towards the complete phasing out of hazardous pesticides.
  • Greenpeace calls upon the government to support farming communities by providing greater support to organic farming and other non-pesticide and non-GE (genetically engineered) agricultural practices.
  • Greenpeace calls upon the pesticide industry to accept its liability and provide compensation and rehabilitation for all victims of pesticides poisoning, including children.

For more information, contact: Divya Raghunandan, Campaigner, Greenpeace India- +91-98-455-35406, [email protected]

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