ADHD News & Research

Does Prenatal Exposure to Pesticides Increase a Child’s Risk for ADHD?

A team of researchers from the University of Arizona will aim to answer this question by conducting one of the first studies investigating whether a link exists between prenatal exposure to two types of widely used pesticides and ADHD diagnoses in children.

May 1, 2019

Does prenatal exposure to pesticides, particularly the common household insecticides organophosphates (OPs) and pyrethroids, increase a child’s risk of having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD)? This is the central question guiding a new research study being conducted by Melissa Furlong, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow and epidemiologist in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health1.

Prenatal biomarkers for OP have been associated with symptoms of ADHD, including deficits in working memory and social responsiveness, and studies have shown that children with ADHD demonstrate higher levels of pyrethroid metabolites. Furlong’s study, however, will be the first to evaluate prenatal exposure to these pesticides and the prevalence of ADHD in a large group of similar individuals over time.

Furlong, whose research examines the association between environmental contaminants and neurological disorders, will use data from the Arizona Pesticides Use Registry to identify women who were exposed to pesticides during pregnancy. She will further analyze data from Arizona Medicaid claim records to identify children diagnosed with ADHD. Her team’s work will be funded by a five-year grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

She said she is particularly interested in this study because “there is a relaxed attitude toward organophosphate and pyrethroid pesticide use among the general public. But if a link exists between exposure to these pesticides and childhood ADHD, consumers and regulators deserve to know.”


UA to study link between prenatal exposure to pesticides and childhood ADHD. EurekAlert! (Apr. 2019).