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Research Grants

NIEHS/EPA CEHCs: Center for Child Environmental Health Risks Research - University of Washington


Children living in agricultural areas face increased health risks due to exposure to pesticides sprayed on fields that can drift toward homes and schools.  They may also ingest pesticides through food or drinking water.  Children of farm workers are at higher risk since their parents may bring pesticides home in the car and on their clothing. This center aims to understand why some children are more susceptible than others to the harmful effects of pesticides and are trying to identify how this susceptibility affects growth, development and learning.  Researchers are studying how age, genetic and environmental factors can affect children’s susceptibility.  Areas of study include toxicology, exposure assessment and community intervention. Working with agricultural communities in the Yakima Valley of central Washington, the center aims to incorporate findings on pesticide toxicity and exposure into its risk assessment models to identify ways to help protect children's health. Through partnering with local communities, researchers at this center offer parents solutions in protecting their children from pesticide exposure and the possible harmful health effects.

  • Research Projects

    Project 1: Community Based Participatory Research (CBPR) Project
    This project builds on a 10-year study of pesticide exposure among children of farm workers in the Yakima Valley and investigates the multiple pathways that may contribute to potential pesticide exposure in adults and children living in agricultural communities. The CBPR project is looking at how pesticide exposure can vary with season, agricultural practices and geographical proximity. Additionally, researchers examine the relationship of these exposures to children’s health using biomarkers of exposure, susceptibility, response and effect. Researchers are also working to understand the contributions of genetic differences to susceptibility and how environmental exposures influence gene expression. Results of this project could be highly relevant for families and children living in most agricultural regions in the U.S. where four calendar seasons exist, such as the Northeast and Pacific Northwest.

    Project Leader: Engelberta Thompson, Ph.D., University of Washington

    Project 2: Pesticide Exposure Pathways Project
    This research project is designed to determine how sprayed pesticides, involving multiple applications, crops, weather patterns, human activities and other variables, can go beyond agricultural fields to affect local residents in the Yakima Valley region of Washington State. The project aims to identify factors that influence the type and amount of potential pesticide exposure that occurs across the local community. Researchers are using innovative methods to assess pesticide exposures resulting from spray drift. The goal is to identify and develop best practices for farmers using pesticides and help the community better understand why and how to reduce children’s exposure to these chemicals.

    Project Leader: Michael Yost, Ph.D., University of Washington

    Project 3: Molecular Mechanisms Research Project
    This project is looking to discover how exposure to organophosphate pesticides can affect children’s nervous system development using mouse and cell models. Researchers are looking to increase the ability to detect whether a person has been exposed to pesticides and how pesticides interact with a person’s genes to cause health problems. This project is examining the mechanisms of neurotoxicity on the molecular level for pesticides and chemicals that inhibit the action of acetylcholinesterase (AChE), an enzyme which is essential to proper nerve function. The research is also looking to characterize and understand why there are certain time periods when children are more susceptible to adverse effects from environmental exposures, often termed “windows of susceptibility.” The results can be useful in developing methods of assessing risk from pesticide exposure across developmental periods and in humans as well.

    Project Leaders: Lucio Costa, Pharm.D., and Elaine M. Faustman, Ph.D., University of Washington

    Project 4: Genetic Susceptibility Research Project
    This project addresses a second issue of susceptibility. Researchers are developing methods for assessing potential pesticide exposures by characterizing specific biomarker proteins in blood, and making use of these more accurate measures of exposure to investigate gene-environment interactions. These methods can lead to better ways of assessing risk from exposure to pesticides in children and help identify ways to deal with the exposures.

    Project Leaders: Clement Furlong, Ph.D., and Lucio Costa, Pharm.D., University of Washington

    Work in the Center is organized around the “V-diagram” which connects occurrence of disease to the original source of the problem. From this it is apparent that there are intermediate steps along the way to develop strategies to prevent that exposure and to understand the mechanisms by which such exposures can lead to adverse health outcomes in children. The CBPR Project focuses on how to prevent pesticides from being transported from the fields to the home. DNA sampling will help identify the genetic mechanisms relating dose to early health effects. Statistical analyses link the components together.

  • Outcomes

    Primary Environmental Exposures:  Agricultural pesticides.
    Primary Health Outcomes:  Children’s neurodevelopment, genetic susceptibility to harmful effects from exposure to agricultural pesticides

  • Publications

    Publications: (2003 - 2008)