Potential short-term neurobehavioral alterations in children associated with a peak pesticide spray season: The Mother's Day flower harvest in Ecuador

Jose R. Suarez-Lopez, Harvey Checkoway, David R. Jacobs, Wael K. Al-Delaimy, Sheila Gahagan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Background Exposures to cholinesterase inhibitor pesticides (e.g. organophosphates) have been associated with children's neurobehavioral alterations, including attention deficit and impulsivity. Animal studies have observed transient alterations in neurobehavioral performance in relation to cholinesterase inhibitor pesticide exposures; however, limited evidence exists regarding transient effects in humans. Methods We estimated the associations between neurobehavioral performance and time after Mother's Day flower harvest (the end of a heightened pesticide usage period) among 308 4-to 9-year-old children living in floricultural communities in Ecuador in 2008 who participated in the ESPINA study. Children's neurobehavior was examined once (NEPSY-II: 11 subtests covering 5 domains), between 63 and 100 days (SD: 10.8 days) after Mother's Day harvest (blood acetylcholinesterase activity levels can take 82 days to normalize after irreversible inhibition with organophosphates). Results The mean (SD) neurobehavioral scaled scores across domains ranged from 6.6 (2.4) to 9.9 (3.3); higher values reflect greater performance. Children examined sooner after Mother's Day had lower neurobehavioral scores than children examined later, in the domains of (score difference per 10.8 days, 95%CI): Attention/Inhibitory Control (0.38, 0.10–0.65), Visuospatial Processing (0.60, 0.25–0.95) and Sensorimotor (0.43, 0.10–0.77). Scores were higher with longer time post-harvest among girls (vs. boys) in Attention/Inhibitory Control. Conclusions Our findings, although cross-sectional, are among the first in non-worker children to suggest that a peak pesticide use period may transiently affect neurobehavioral performance, as children examined sooner after the flower harvest had lower neurobehavioral performance than children examined later. Studies assessing pre- and post-exposure measures are needed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)125-133
Number of pages9
StatePublished - May 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Research reported in this publication was supported by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (1R36OH009402-01) and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences of the National Institutes of Health under Awards R01ES025792-01, R21ES026084-01. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Elsevier B.V.


  • Acute
  • Children
  • Cholinesterase
  • Neurobehavior
  • Pesticides
  • Transient


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