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A Strong Illustration of How Chemicals Can Hurt Our Developing Minds

By Dr. Arthur Lavin

We have written before about the peculiar trouble we have seeing the harm poisons can cause our brains, a trouble that paralyzes us from protecting ourselves, and our children.

Now comes an excellent example that illustrates the problem very well.

The example is a chemical called chlorpyrifos, a type of pesticide in the category called organo-phosphate pesticides.

How a Word can Stop Us from Thinking

Let’s begin our discussion with the fact that just reading, or saying, the word chlorpyrifos, makes most of us run away.

It makes us stop thinking.

It sounds so technical.  The word itself makes you doubt- is this another obscure controversy, where scientists will be imposing an argument on us?

Who knows what the word chlorpyrifos really means?  It is a truly obscure word.

Contrast that with the word epidemic, or anthrax, or cholera.  These words are crystal clear, everyone agrees they don’t want to experience these things.  We all agree that we all want to take steps to never die in an epidemic, or have anthrax, or be swept away in a cholera outbreak.

These words are clear, they speak to things we can see, and that we are familiar with.  They are deadly events, that is obvious, they are not obscure.

And, very importantly, we are all very used to the actions necessary to avoid them.   We can avoid going to areas of the world riddles with epidemics, or anthrax, or cholera.  We can eat clean foods, and drink clean water.  It just makes sense.

But the word chlorpyrifos is just the opposite.  Almost no one feels very familiar with this thing chlorpyrifos.  Once you get familiar, it is depressing to think about finding a way not to be exposed.  There is a huge political divide on whether to even bother avoiding it.

It is not only obscure, but when it comes to environmental poisons, we tend to get foggy in our thinking, run away from a terrible challenge, just feel helpless.

So, what is chlorpyrifos

Not to worry, the answer is very simple.  Chlorpyrifos is one type of chemical.

That’s it.

The sort of chemical it is is also easy to describe.  It is a pesticide.

That’s it.

Now, to make it interesting, we can talk about what sort of chemical, what sort of pesticide.

Chlorpyrifos is a type of pesticide that kills its target, insects, by destroying their nervous system.   The class it belongs to is an organo-phosphate pesticide.  All these types of pesticides block the connection between an animal’s nerve and an animal’s muscle.

If you think that sounds bad, you are correct.

Why Chlorpyrifos is a Poison

It’s bad because insects and all of us basically have the same sort of nerves and muscles.  Find a chemical to stop a nerve in an insect from working, and it will stop ours too.

And it gets worse.  Block nerves in insects or us, and it messes up your brain, too.

And it gets worse.  Block brain nerve action, and you can really mess up how infants and children’s brains develop.

Why worry about developing brains?  You ruin brain development, and you condemn that person to a lifetime of troubles including lower intelligence, severe behavioral issues, and abnormal moods.  These are extremely harmful outcomes.

Actually, again, it’s a pretty simple situation, chemicals that poison the brain especially hurt babies and children, and can lead to a lifetime of impairment.

People who make chlorpyrifos have known it is a brain poison for people since it was first invented.

After all, it was initially created as a nerve gas for use in World War II.  So it started its career designed to destroy the human mind.  After the war, the notion of a nerve gas was so awful, its label was changed into a pesticide.  But it still is a very good nerve gas.

Does it Really Hurt Children?


Sadly, not only can it stop a nerve from working a muscle, in young kids, we now know that it is a proven, established, developmental poison.  Infants and children exposed to this chemical experience messed up brain development.

Chlorpyrifos is now known to mess up how nerves grow in a new brain, how they grow connections, how they connect, in short all sorts of ways our brains need to work.

People have actually looked at children exposed to chlorpyrifos, and the picture is horrifying.

Mothers exposed to it during pregnancy will have children at age 7 with lower intelligence.

A group of 6-11 year olds exposed to it found that the higher the exposure, the more trouble they have paying attention, learning, behaving normally, learning to read or talk, connect to other people, manage emotions.

So, it is known to make our children less smart, have more abnormal behaviors, less able to learn, and experience more impairing emotions.  This is a catastrophic list of harms.

People have even shown that the more chlorpyrifos a child is exposed to the more abnormal scans of key areas of the brain are.  It is not our imagination, this chemical is a poison to the brain.

So, what Have We Done to Rid Ourselves of this Poison?

In 2000-2001, the US government banned the use of chlorpyrifos as an indoor pesticide.

In 2016 the plan was in place to get rid of chlorpyrifos once and for all, including use in farms.

In March, 2017, Scott Pruitt our current head of the EPA decided it would be a good idea to scrap the ban, and to make sure our children, and we, continue to be eating this brain poison.

And that is where we stand today.

Here is a great article from the world’s leading medical journal, the New England Journal of Medicine on the whole story:


Take a moment to see the map of the US to see where chlorpyrifos is in use in the United States.

You will see we are surrounded by counties that use a lot of it.

And here is another great link, from Project TENDR, the nation’s consortium of its top 50 or so scientists who study the effect of chemicals on our mind, a group I am proud to belong to.

Here is their publication, identifying this group of chemicals, the organo-phosphate pesticides, as now proven chemicals that hurt developing brains and play a role in the emergence of autism, ADHD, and learning disorders:


And here are Project TENDR leaders briefing the US Congress on these points:


What Foods have Chlorpyrifos on them?

Mostly fruits and vegetables, but especially strawberries.

Organic foods to not have any chlorpyrifos on them.


  1. We are all strangely avoidant of the dangers of chemicals to our health.  It just seems too complex, and in many instances, depressing.  How to understand it all?  What can one person do?
  2. Chlorpyrifos, an odd and strange sounding word, is actually easy to understand.  It poisons our brains.  It was built to be a nerve gas in WWII.  Now it’s used to kill insects on strawberries we eat.
  3. We know it damages developing brains to the point it lowers a child’s intelligence, disrupts their emotions, plays a role in the emergence of ADHD, autism, and learning disorders.
  4. It’s also not hard to know that it can be eliminated.   In 2000-2001 it was banned from use indoors.  In 2016 it was banned in use on farms.  In 2017, Scott Pruitt decided it would be better to keep hurting our kids, and so chlorpyrifos is used today all over the US, including all over Ohio.
  5. Until the ban is in place, don’t eat chlorpyrifos.  Buy organic fruits.  If not, wash them thoroughly.
  6. Let your Congresspeople, and the EPA know you don’t want your kids hurt by chlorpyrifos.
  7. And, lastly, let’s get over our fear and avoidance of acting on environmental health, it is a very big piece of why so many of our children struggle.


To your health,
Dr. Arthur Lavin

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