Recent studies show that young children can be exposed to pesticides during normal oral exploration of their environment and their level of dermal contact with floors and other surfaces. Children living in agricultural areas may be exposed to higher pesticide levels than other children because of pesticides tracked into their homes by household members, by pesticide drift, by breast milk from their farmworker mother, or by playing in nearby fields. Nevertheless, few studies have assessed the extent of children's pesticide exposure, and no studies have examined whether there are adverse health effects of chronic exposure. There is substantial toxicologic evidence that repeated low-level exposure to organophosphate (OP) pesticides may affect neurodevelopment and growth in developing animals. For example, animal studies have reported neurobehavorial effects such as impairment on maze performance, locomotion, and balance in neonates exposed (italic)in utero(/italic) and during early postnatal life. Possible mechanisms for these effects include inhibition of brain acetylcholinesterase, downregulation of muscarinic receptors, decreased brain DNA synthesis, and reduced brain weight in offspring. Research findings also suggest that it is biologically plausible that OP exposure may be related to respiratory disease in children through dysregulation of the autonomic nervous system. The University of California Berkeley Center for Children's Environmental Health Research is working to build a community-university partnership to study the environmental health of rural children. This Center for the Health Assessment of Mothers and Children of Salinas, or CHAMACOS in Monterey County, California, will assess (italic)in utero(/italic) and postnatal OP pesticide exposure and the relationship of exposure to neurodevelopment, growth, and symptoms of respiratory illness in children. The ultimate goal of the center is to translate research findings into a reduction of children's exposure to pesticides and other environmental agents, and thereby reduce the incidence of environmentally related disease.
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