Chlorpyrifos is an organophosphate pesticide commonly used in residences until the U.S. EPA banned it from domestic use in 2001 due to its alleged, but controversial impact on neurodevelopment in children. People living in poverty, amid dilapidated and crowded conditions, are more likely to be exposed to environmental toxins, such as chlorpyrifos. But both the socially-adverse environment and the toxin may independently have impacts on neurodevelopment.
This study is designed to analyze whether neighborhood characteristics correlate with early neurodevelopment and whether these impacts confound the previously-reported link between chlorpyrifos and neurodevelopment. The study included babies born between 1998 and 2002 to African American and Dominican women living in several impoverished New York City neighborhoods. Umbilical cord or prenatal maternal plasma levels of chlorpyrifos were analyzed; prenatal neighborhood and residential living conditions and levels of poverty were identified; and, at 36 months, children’s cognitive and psychomotor development was assessed. The final sample included 266 children.
The ban of chlorpyrifos that went into effect during the study period introduced a complicating variable. But both neighborhood poverty and chlorpyrifos exposure during the prenatal period were associated independently with lower scores of neurodevelopment at age three among New York City’s minorities. This suggests that both improving prenatal neighborhoods and toxin exposures are opportunities to promote long-term health. The introduction of neighborhood characteristics into health studies can help public health advocates deploy resources more strategically.