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Extramural Research

Center for Environmental Research and Children’s Health (CERCH) - UC Berkeley

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Center Director: Brenda Eskenazi

Project 1: CHAMACOS Cohort Project
Is there an association between exposure to DDT pesticide, manganese and flame retardants in the womb and during childhood with defects in neurodevelopment and early puberty?

Project 2: Exposure Project
How do the levels of pesticides, manganese and flame retardants in shed baby teeth compare with exposure to DDT pesticide, manganese and flame retardants in children?

Project 3: Epigenetics Project
Are there genetic changes related to pre- and post-natal exposures to DDT pesticide, manganese and flame retardants, and are those exposures related to onset of puberty and hormonal changes?


The research activities of this Children’s Center are based in the Salinas Valley, California, an agricultural region southeast of San Francisco known as “the nation’s salad bowl,” where fruits and vegetables such as are grown. More than 500,000 pounds of organophosphate (OP) pesticides are used each year on agricultural fields in this region. People working in and living near the fields are exposed to the chemicals used to grow these crops, with negative health consequences and particular concern for children exposed in the womb and in the first years of life. The area is home to an estimated 38,000 farm workers. The Center’s work focuses on learning about and preventing environmental exposures to the children of low-income families, many of whom are farm workers and immigrants from Mexico.

The largest project of this Center is the Center for the Health Assessment of Mothers and Children of Salinas (CHAMACOS, which means young children in Mexican Spanish). This ongoing study is assessing the health effects of children’s exposure to (1) pesticides such as DDT and DDE, manganese (a key component of widely used fungicides), (2) flame retardants (at high levels in these children due to the strict flammability standards in California are often present in furniture and house dust), and (3) social factors such as housing quality and neighborhood conditions. The mothers of the initial study population children were enrolled during pregnancy in 2000-2001 and 300 of these children are still participating and are now entering adolescence. The Center is also enrolling 300 new 9-year-old participants to examine the relationship of environmental exposures to onset of puberty and to brain and nervous system development.

Environmental Exposures and Health Outcomes

Primary Environmental Exposures: Pesticides including DDT and DDE, manganese, PBDEs (brominated flame retardants)
Primary Health Outcomes: Development of the brain and nervous system, growth and timing of puberty

Research Projects

Project 1: CHAMACOS Cohort Project
This project is a community-based study investigating associations between exposure to persistent and non-persistent pesticides, manganese and flame-retardant chemicals in faarm worker children with changes in brain and nervous system development and the timing of puberty. The age at onset of puberty in girls has declined in recent decades, possibly due to endocrine-disrupting chemicals but almost no studies have examined pubertal onset in boys. Researchers are looking to understand how prenatal DDT and DDE, manganese and flame retardant exposure, as measured in maternal blood, boys’ blood samples and shed baby teeth may be associated with brain and nervous system development and onset of puberty. Researchers at this Center partner with the communities involved in the study to share findings to farm workers, growers and the public and identify ways to better protect children’s health.

Project 2: Exposure Project
This project includes several exposure studies. Researchers are validating new and innovative methods to measure the amount of manganese in shed baby teeth for comparison with known biological markers of manganese exposure. They are also examining the association between the use of common fungicides that contain manganese with the levels of manganese in teeth. Manganese is also being measured in house dust, to determine whether dust is a pathway linking pesticide use to human manganese exposure. The project will also contribute to Project 1 by identifying factors that impact exposure to flame retardant and pesticide exposures among the CHAMACOS children.

Project 3: Epigenetics Project
Epigenetic changes have been associated with environmental exposures, including exposure to air pollution and volatile chemicals. Little is known about epigenetic changes in children, including differences with gender or age and associations with health. Project 3 is examining whether epigenetic changes in children differs by age and gender and if prenatal and early life exposures to environmental chemicals leads to epigenetic changes. Researchers are also looking to discover whether epigenetic changes are associated with the onset of puberty and hormonal changes.

Community Partners

Previously Funded Projects

University of California at Berkeley Center for Children's Environmental Health Research


Publications (2004 - 2010)
Publications (1998 - 2003)

Centers Funded By:
Centers Funded by Epa and NIEHS

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