Changes in Pest Infestation Levels, Self-Reported Pesticide Use, and Permethrin Exposure during Pregnancy after the 2000–2001 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Restriction of Organophosphates

Background: Widespread residential pesticide use throughout the United States has resulted in ubiquitous, low-level pesticide exposure. The mix of active pesticide ingredients is changing in response to 2000–2001 regulations restricting use of the organophosphorus insecticides chlorpyrifos and diazinon.

Objectives: We aimed to determine the impact of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations on pest infestation levels, pesticide use, and pesticides measured in indoor air samples.

Methodology: 511 pregnant women from inner-city New York were enrolled between 2000 and 2006. Permethrin, a pyrethroid insecticide; piperonyl butoxide (PBO), a pyrethroid synergist; chlorpyrifos; and diazinon were measured in 48-hr prenatal personal air samples. Data on pest infestation and pesticide use were collected via questionnaire.

Results: Eighty-eight percent of women reported using pesticides during pregnancy; 55% reported using higher-exposure pesticide applications (spray cans, pest bombs and/or professional pesticide applicators). Self-reported pest sightings and use of higher-exposure applications increased significantly after the regulations were implemented (p < 0.001). PBO, cis-, and trans-permethrin were detected in 75, 19, and 18% of personal air samples, respectively. Detection frequencies of PBO and cis- and trans-permethrin increased significantly over time (p < 0.05 controlling for potential confounders). Levels and/or detection frequencies of these compounds were significantly higher among mothers reporting use of high exposure pesticide applications (p ≤ 0.05). Chlorpyrifos and diazinon levels decreased significantly over time (p < 0.001).

Conclusion: In this cohort, pest infestations, use of pesticides, and use of permethrin appear to increase after the residential restriction of organophosphorus insecticides. This is one of the first studies to document widespread residential exposure to PBO.

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