HYDERABAD: Believe it or not, children in Hyderabad are consuming 10 to 40 times more pesticides in their food than children in Europe, USA or Canada. In a first-of-its-kind study conducted in the country to find out exposure to pesticides through food intake among children, the Hyderabad-based National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) has brought out some shocking findings. The study was conducted to find out the exposure of children to organophosphate (OP), a widely used category of a pesticide under which close to 40 kinds of products are available in the market.
When OP pesticides enter the human body, they metabolise into dialkyl phosphates metabolites (DAP), which are excreted by the body through urine. To understand the exposure of children to pesticides, NIN scientists collected urine samples from 377 children aged between 6 and 15 years, 188 boys and 189 girls, in Hyderabad and measured the DAP values in their urine to assess the exposure of these children to OP pesticides. The scientists found out that the average value of DAP in the urine of these 377 children was 4.1 micromole per litre.
The DAP value was 4.5 micromole per litre among the children aged between 6 and 10 years and 4.1 micromoles per litre among those aged 11 to 15 years. The study, ‘Correlation of pesticide exposure from dietary intake and bio-monitoring: The different sex and socio-economic study of children’, conducted by Dr Sukesh Narayan Sinha, Scientist-E, Food and Drug Toxicology Division, NIN, and Venkat Reddy Banda is published in Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety journal.
Although there are no national standards as to how much the DAP value in urine should be, one can understand the gravity of these findings by comparing the DAP values obtained through similar studies conducted in other countries. In a study conducted in Tuscany in Italy, the DAP levels in urine samples of 92 boys and 103 girls aged 6 to 7 years were found to be 0.334 and 0.356 micromole per litre respectively. In a study involving 471 children aged 6 to 11 years in the USA, the average DAP level in urine was 0.101 micromole per litre and in a study in Canada on 1,035 children, the DAP level in urine was found to be 0.099 micromoles per litre.
A comparison of these three studies shows that children in Hyderabad are consuming more than 40 times than their counterparts in the USA or Canada. When contacted, Dr Shashi Bhushan Vemuri, former head of All India Network Project on Pesticide Residues, said, “Farmers apply pesticides to fruits and vegetables just before they are brought to the market and when people take them, those contain very high amounts of pesticides.’’.
The study: Urine samples of 377 children aged 6-15 years - 188 boys and 189 girls - taking normal diet at home analysed
Purpose: To understand their exposure to organophosphate pesticides
What are organophosphates?
They include pesticides, which though banned for use in fruits and vegetables, are still widely in use
How they show up?
When organophosphates enter the body, they are metabolised into dialkyl phosphates metabolites (DAP), which are excreted through urine
Average DAP level in the urine was 4.1 micromole per litre as compared to 0.101 in the US
Girls had higher pesticide metabolites in their urine than boys. In this age group, girls consumed more fruits than boys, suggesting a pesticide correlation