Pesticide Exposure Suspect In ADHD Blame Game

In Brief:

  • Pyrethroids are organic chemical compounds commonly found in pesticides
  • New research reveals a correlation between pyrethroid exposure and developmental issues
  • Pyrethroids do not pose significant risks when used outside, but indoor use should be avoided

Imagine enjoying a wonderful picnic with your family on a beautiful midsummer day. Sweet corn, salad, watermelon, and ribs are arranged enticingly on the table. But just as everyone is about to sit down, a toddler spots a wasp and lets out a terrifying scream.

Tracking the insect, you run to the garage and reach for a can of bug spray. Little do you know that this relatively cheap, over-the-counter pest control contains a potentially harmful type of pesticide known as a pyrethroid.

Dr. Jason Richardson of Occupational Medicine at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School

Dr. Jason Richardson works at Occupational Medicine at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and has made numerous contributions to toxicology.

Pyrethroids are organic chemical compounds that are commonly found in household insecticides like cans of Raid and over-the-counter lice treatments. While they are considered safer than organic phosphates, which have been replaced in recent years, new research reveals correlations between pyrethroid exposure and developmental issues. Dr. Jason Richardson, a leading researcher in this field, has been investigating pyrethroids’ relationship with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which is broadly characterized by hyperactivity and impulsive behavior.

Dr. Richardson and his team first discovered a potential correlation between pyrethroids and ADHD while studying the link between exposure to pyrethroids during development and later onset of Parkinson’s disease in mice. While the study found no correlation, researchers noticed hyper behavior in the mice. After observing this unexpected behavior, Dr. Richardson decided to expand the study.

The researchers continued by comparing pyrethroid exposure to the frequency of ADHD diagnoses using statistics provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At the same time, they observed the real time effects of pyrethroids by monitoring laboratory mice exposed to varying levels of pesticide. The resulting data allowed the researchers to name pesticide exposure as a new suspect in the ADHD blame game by linking pyrethroids to hyperactive and impulsive behavior: the trademark symptoms of ADHD.

However, while the evidence suggests that frequent or prolonged exposure to pyrethroids is a cause for concern, we don’t need to avoid pesticides altogether. When applied outside, pyrethroids in pesticides break down rapidly due to ultraviolet radiation from the sun and exposure to the elements. However, when used indoors, the toxic compounds do not break down as rapidly and will linger in dangerous concentrations. As a result, limiting exposure by avoiding indoor and personal applications of pyrethroid-based pesticide is suggested, especially in households with small children or seniors.

So the next time you see a wasp’s nest, leave extermination to the professionals. If you do reach for that can of pesticide, avoid indoor use and be sure to follow all directions and warning labels. Bad case of head lice? Think twice before purchasing that over-the-counter treatment and consider manual removal or natural repellents instead. With these precautions, we can say goodbye to pests and avoid exposure to the harmful effects of pyrethroids.


Works Cited

  1. “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.” NIMH RSS. March 2016. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-adhd/index.shtml.
  2. Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. “Study links exposure to common pesticide with ADHD in boys.” ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/06/150601122535.htm.
  3. Oulhote, Youssef, and Maryse F. Bouchard. “Urinary Metabolites of Organophosphate and Pyrethroid Pesticides and Behavioral Problems in Canadian Children.” Environmental Health Perspectives 121, no. 11-12 (2013): 1378-384. doi:10.1289/ehp.1306667.
  4. “Pyrethrins and Pyrethroids.” EPA. March 11, 2016. https://www.epa.gov/ingredients-used-pesticide-products/pyrethrins-and-pyrethroids.
  5. Richardson, Jason. Interview by Katherine Crofford.
  6. Richardson, J. R., M. M. Taylor, S. L. Shalat, T. S. Guillot, W. M. Caudle, M. M. Hossain, T. A. Mathews, S. R. Jones, D. A. Cory-Slechta, and G. W. Miller. “Developmental Pesticide Exposure Reproduces Features of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.” The FASEB Journal 29, no. 5 (2015): 1960-972. doi:10.1096/fj.14-260901.
  7. Wagner-Schuman, Melissa, Jason R. Richardson, Peggy Auinger, Joseph M. Braun, Bruce P. Lanphear, Jeffery N. Epstein, Kimberly Yolton, and Tanya E. Froehlich. “Association of pyrethroid pesticide exposure with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in a nationally representative sample of U.S. children.” Environmental Health 14, no. 1 (May 28, 2015). doi:10.1186/s12940-015-0030-y.

Image Credits:
Feature Image: Photo: “Spray Can https://pixabay.com/en/fragrance-spray-box-graffiti-night-1502844/” by Anonymous https://pixabay.com/en/users/955169-955169/?tab=about (Edited). License: CC 1.0
Story Image: cSw Staff Illustrator Sreya Das

Chief Editor: Aparna Ragupathi
Creative Team Coordinator: Sreya Das
Team Editor: Emily Liu
Team Graphic Designer: Sreya Das


This article was written by Katherine Crofford. As always, before leaving a response to this article please view our Rules of Conduct. Thanks! -cSw Editorial Staff

Katherine Crofford

Author: Katherine Crofford

I am Katherine Crofford, and I am a senior in high school. I have had a passion for science and literature since a very young age, and writing for cSw has been a fantastic way for me to combine those interests in an exciting way! I hope to pursue my interests in scientific journalism further in college. When I am not reading books or science blogs, I can be found in my high school’s theatre constructing sets or fencing as part of the varsity team. Thank you for visiting our blog, and I suggest checking out some more of my fellow writers’ articles!

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1 Comment

  1. You do not mention about genetic susceptibility of ADHD with the pesticide exposure? Is genetic susceptibility and pesticide exposure unrelated? And, can one show symptoms of ADHC after exposure where there was no symptoms before? This article made me very curious and will make me read more! Thanks for citing your reference links!!!

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