It is often said that the country is a great place to raise children.
Far away from the pollution of the city, they can enjoy wide open spaces and enjoy a healthier lifestyle, running around in nature.
But a new study has warned children who live near farms are exposed to a common class of pesticides.
Proximity to those agricultural chemicals cause children to develop weaker lungs.
And the effect is just as damaging to that of passive smoking, experts said.
The study is the first to link chronic low-level exposures to organophosphate pesticides to lung health in children.
Researchers found that levels of organophosphate pesticide metabolites in the body of children who lived near farms were linked to weaker breaths.
The study found that each tenfold increase in concentrations of the pesticide was associated with a 159-milliliter decrease in lung function.
That’s equivalent to approximately eight per cent less air, on average, when blowing out a candle.
Furthermore, children who are exposed to these pesticides face greater risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in adulthood – one of the most common respiratory diseases in the world.
Dr Brenda Eskenazi of the University of California, Berkeley – one of the authors of the study – said: ‘Researchers have described breathing problems in agricultural workers who are exposed to these pesticides, but these new findings are about children who live in an agricultural area where the organophosphates are used.
‘This is the first evidence suggesting that children exposed to organophosphates have poorer lung function.’
The study looked at the lung function of 279 children living in California’s Salinas Valley.
The participating children were part of the Center for the Health Assessment of Mothers and Children of Salinas, a longitudinal study that followed them from womb to adolescence.
Researchers collected urine samples from the children five times from age six months to five years, testing the levels of organophosphate pesticide metabolites.
At age seven, the children were given a spirometry test to measure the amount of air they could exhale.
Dr Rachel Raanan, another author of the study, said: ‘The kids in our study with higher pesticide exposure had lower breathing capacity.
‘If the reduced lung function persists into adulthood, it could leave our participants at greater risk of developing respiratory problems.’
The study adds exposure to these pesticides to a long list of environmental hazards that could be harmful to the developing lungs of children – including air pollution, indoor cook stove smoke and environmental tobacco smoke.
Researchers suggest that, to minimize a child’s exposure, farmers should remove their work clothes and shoes before entering their homes, and be kept indoors when fields are sprayed.
Fruits and vegetables should also be washed before eating.
The study was published in the journal Thorax.