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Pesticide cloud on children’s IQ, growth

New Delhi, Aug. 7: Medical and toxicology experts warn that the presence of heavy metals and pesticide residues in soft drinks can affect the health of growing children.

“It will have the maximum negative effect on pregnant women and the (resultant) child may manifest these symptoms in his or her childhood,” H.M. Sayeed of the National Institute of Occupational Health in Ahmedabad said.

Samples of 12 brands of soft drinks tested recently at the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) laboratory have shown residues of 12 organo-phosphorus pesticides and four synthetic pyrethroids — all of them commonly used as insecticides in fields and homes.

The sludge produced at a Coca-Cola bottling plant in Kerala contains levels of carcinogenic cadmium high enough to cause kidney failure.

“It has been proven the world over that the presence of the pesticides found in soft drinks can affect the IQ of a child. It can even lead to a problem in the development of sexual organs,” says Sayeed. The problems will not be evident immediately when a child is born, he says.

“The distortions may be very subtle. The IQ of a child may go down from 100 to 90 and this may not be clinically diagnosed,” Sayeed says.

He says much depends on the level of pesticides and heavy metals found in the drinks - the level has been found to be much higher than the European Union’s permissible limit.

Toxicologists say children are more at risk from the pesticides. “There is enough scientific evidence to show these can adversely affect a critical stage of children’s development,” Sayeed says.

The organo-chlorine pesticides found in the soft drinks include lindane, DDT and its metabolites. The organo-phosphorus pesticides found are chloropyrifos and malathion.

“The matter is of utmost concern to us. It is not just in India but throughout the world that the presence of these pesticides has shown gross health defects among farmers and children,” says Sayeed.

Experts say it is not just pesticide residues or heavy metals that are endangering children’s health — it has now been established that over-consumption of soft drinks can result in tooth decay, obesity and caffeine-dependence.

The CSE tested two soft drink brands marketed in the US and found no pesticides. Even in the US, there is a growing lobby of people campaigning against soft drinks.

In 2001, senator Paul G. Pinsky introduced a bill in Maryland prohibiting the sale of soft drinks and other non-nutritious foods in schools until after 3 pm.

Experts say childhood consumption of caffeine can adversely affect the brain’s development and warn that regular use of caffeine in soda can lead to caffeine-dependence in later life. Despite this, a US study says, diet colas pack their product with more caffeine in order to avoid sugar and extra calories.

For instance, a 12 ounce can of Diet Coke has about 42 mg of caffeine, seven times more than in a regular Coke. A Diet Pepsi can has about 56 mg of caffeine, 18 mg more than in a regular Pepsi.

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