Analysis Identifies Gaps in Neonicotinoid Pesticide Research

The consequences of the widespread use of neonicotinoid pesticides on U.S. consumers has been the subject of very little study, concludes the first systematic review to assess existing research on how exposure to the “neonics” may impact human health.  In analyzing the eight existing studies on the topic, the review led by EOH Chair and Professor Melissa Perry found evidence suggesting that significantly more research is in order to uncover the extent and effects of exposure to the pesticides.   

Neonics are used extensively on U.S. food crops, including more than 90 percent of all corn and at least 44 percent of our soybeans, as well as many other cereals, oilseeds, fruits and vegetables.  The pesticides are persistent in the environment and numerous studies have reported their detection on foods common to the American diet, as well as in soil, groundwater and nontarget plants and animals.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved the first neonicotinoid pesticides more than two decades ago.  Over the past decade, a growing body of animal research has linked the pesticides to impairments in neonatal development and on the nervous system and brain, as well as identifying pathways through which human exposure may occur.  The pesticides have also been implicated as contributors to the dramatic losses of honeybee populations reported in the U.S. and throughout the world since 2006. 

The evidence that Perry’s group analyzed suggests that chronic exposure may impact embryonic development and the human nervous system.   She stresses that more research is needed to investigate these findings, adding:  “The relative dearth of research into how neonics may impact human health is concerning.  At a time when the use of these pesticides is expected to grow, we have no idea how many Americans may be exposed because of a lack of biomonitoring data.”

Perry’s coauthors include her student Andria Cimino, who earned her MPH in 2015 and aided in the research project as part of her culminating experience. 

“Effects of Neonicotinoid Pesticide Exposure on Human Health: A Systematic Review” appears in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.