Past Event

ADHD-Pesticide Study: Cause for Concern or Critique?

Believed to affect 4.5 million children, ADHD is one of the most prominent developmental syndromes plaguing America’s youth. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Illnesses cites many symptoms of ADHD, including “fail[ing] to give close attention to details or mak[ing] careless mistakes in schoolwork, work, or other activities” and being “easily distracted by extraneous stimuli,” but does not state its causes. Researchers therefore can only conduct studies trying to link ADHD with a certain action—TV watching, for example.

A new study published in the journal Pediatrics concludes that exposure to pesticides may contribute to ADHD. This study, which was based on single urine samples of 1,139 U.S. children, has received intense media coverage and could generate a wave of parental concern. Coupled with a 2008 Emory University Study that shows that ingestion is the primary means of exposure to pesticides for children, some news sources are saying that many parents will undoubtedly steer clear of “frozen blueberries, strawberries and celery” and other vegetables known for containing higher amounts of pesticide. Others may opt to buy organic instead.

But is there sufficient evidence in support of this study’s findings? Critics, particularly those in agribusiness, cite its inability to draw a clear connection between pesticide ingestion and ADHD. CropLife, an industry association working to promote farming efficiency, said: “When used according to label, the EPA has determined pesticides to be safe.” Alluding to inconclusive methodology—measuring one-time urine samples as opposed to many collected over time—CropLife is undaunted by this study’s conclusions. The authors of the ADHD study countered: “a single urine sample may reflect average exposure levels reasonably well.”

The media hype around this study could sway consumers’ actions. Some in agribusiness question the researchers’ intentions, asking if they were motivated by scientific inquiry or a political ideology. Were researchers attempting to discredit market-driven agribusiness technologies like pesticides?

Although science is supposed to be founded on objectivity and a quest for universal truths, is scientific endeavor becoming increasingly politicized in contemporary society? How will knowledge of this study change your behavior? How will it affect other consumers? How has the growing US green movement influenced this how our reactions to this study? How much do you know about other dangers and/or benefits of pesticides? What is behind the media hype around this study? Why are or aren’t studies like this important to know about? Is it possible for science to be objective? Why or why not?

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