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Your Environment. Your Health.

University of Washington

Center for Child Environmental Health Risks Research

University of Washington
Elaine M. Faustman, Ph.D.

Project Description:

Child Health Specialist: Catherine Karr, Ph.D., M.D.
Pediatrics-primary care, environmental medicine


Environmental Exposures

Agricultural pesticides

Primary Health Outcomes

Children’s neurodevelopment and genetic susceptibility to harmful effects from exposure to agricultural pesticides

The Center for Child Environmental Health Risks aims to understand why some children are more susceptible to the harmful effects of pesticides and how this susceptibility affects growth, development, and learning. Building on a 10-year study of pesticide exposure among children of farm workers in the Yakima Valley of central Washington, researchers are studying how age, genetic, and environmental factors can affect children’s susceptibility. Children living in agricultural areas face increased health risks from exposure to pesticides sprayed on fields. The pesticides can drift toward homes and schools and may also be ingested through food or drinking water. Children of farm workers may also experience exposure to pesticides that their parents may bring home in the car and on their clothing.

The center aims to incorporate findings on pesticide toxicity and exposure into its risk assessment models. This will help identify ways to help protect children's health. Through partnering with local communities, researchers offer parents ways to protect their children from pesticide exposure and the possible harmful health effects.

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Project 1: Community based participatory research (CBPR) project

Project leader: Engelberta Thompson, Ph.D.


This project builds on a 10-year study of pesticide exposure among children of farm workers in the Yakima Valley. Researchers are investigating multiple pathways that may contribute to pesticide exposure in adults and children living in agricultural communities. They are examining how pesticide exposure can vary with season, agricultural practices, and geographical proximity as well as the relationship of exposures to children’s health. Researchers also work to understand the contributions of genetic differences to susceptibility and how environmental exposures influence gene expression.

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Project 2: Pesticide exposure pathways project

Project leader: Michael Yost, Ph.D.


Researchers are determining how sprayed pesticides can go beyond agricultural fields to affect local residents in the Yakima Valley. The project aims to identify factors that influence the type and amount of potential pesticide exposure that occurs, and it will use innovative methods to assess pesticide exposures resulting from spray drift. The researchers have a goal of developing best practices for farmers using pesticides and of helping the community better understand why and how to reduce children’s exposure to these chemicals.

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Project 3: Molecular mechanisms research project

Project leaders: Lucio Costa, Pharm.D., Elaine M. Faustman, Ph.D. ,


Mouse and cell models are used to study how exposure to organophosphate pesticides can affect children’s nervous system development. Researchers aim to improve the ability to detect whether a person has been exposed to pesticides and to understand how pesticides interact with a person’s genes to cause health problems. They are examining the mechanisms of neurotoxicity on the molecular level and also working to characterize and understand why children are more susceptible to adverse effects from environmental exposures during time periods known as “windows of susceptibility.”

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Project 4: Genetic susceptibility research project

Project leaders: Clement Furlong, Ph.D., Lucio Costa, Pharm.D. ,


Investigators are developing methods to assess potential pesticide exposures by characterizing specific proteins in the blood that can act as measurable biological indicators, or biomarkers, of exposure. They are using these biomarkers 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.

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Community Outreach and Translation Core

Core Leader: Lisa Younglove

The Community Outreach and Translation Core (COTC) continues to launch efforts to collect, integrate, and disseminate research findings and to pursue exciting new means of enhancing outreach and translation efforts across center projects and cores. By combining work in the lab, the field, and the community, the center can promote dialogue in multiple directions and bring a unique and successful approach to reducing the adverse effects of environmental pesticide exposures in children.

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