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New Studies on Pesticide Residues Alarm Consumers & Farmers

Anti-Pesticide Campaigns Get Boost from Worrisome New Studies

Katherine Stapp 5/14/04

New data proving that an array of pesticides have reached alarming levels in
the general population are galvanising calls for a ban on the most harmful
chemicals and greater investment in sustainable farming strategies.

NEW YORK, May 14 (IPS) - This week, the San Francisco-based Pesticide Action
Network North America (PANNA) released an analysis of data on 34 pesticides
collected from more than 9,000 people by the Centres for Disease Control and
Prevention (CDC), a U.S. government agency that monitors public health.

Their report found that among people who had both their blood and urine
tested, 100 percent showed pesticide residues. Two insecticides --
chlorpyrifos and methyl parathion -- were found at levels up to 4.5 times
greater than what the U.S. government deems ²acceptable².

Chlorpyrifos, manufactured under the trade name Dursban by Dow Chemical, was
especially pervasive, according to the study, titled ²Chemical Trespass:
Pesticides in Our Bodies and Corporate Accountability².

PANNA estimates that Dow is the source for some 80 percent of the
chlorpyrifos found in those tested.

In fact, Dursban has been controversial for years. In 1999, the CDC
announced that 82 percent of U.S. citizens had the chemical in their bodies.
As a result, Dow agreed to phase out most household uses of Dursban,
although it is still widely sold both in the United States and abroad.

The chemical is used in products ranging from flea collars for pets to
garden and lawn care products. It is also a component in insect control
products, both in agriculture and for household use.

Under a 1994 agreement, Dow also promised to stop advertising its product as
²safe². After the company continued to claim that Dursban had no ²long term
(health) effects² and posed ²no evidence of significant risk to the
environment,² it was slapped with a two-million-dollar fine last December,
the largest of its kind in U.S. history.

PANNA says the company reacted predictably to the most recent study.

²Dow's response has been to say that these pesticides don't last very long
(in human tissue and the environment), but the CDC data directly contradicts
that,² Monica Moore, co-director of PANNA, told IPS. ²This really needs to
be a wake-up call.²

PANNA gained access to CDC data broken down by gender, age and ethnicity,
but not by geographic area or occupation. However, Moore said that the
particularly high pesticide levels seen in Mexican-Americans, for example,
were suggestive of exposure during farm labour.

²What this study shows is that it's not just an individual solution,² she
said. ²We need to adopt sustainable agriculture techniques. Even if you only
eat organic produce, these chemicals are in the air, the water, the stuff
you touch. That's why we're calling for removal of these pesticides from the

The PANNA analysis came on the heels of another study by the Ontario College
of Family Physicians that found linkages between pesticide exposure and a
host of cancers, as well as birth defects and foetal death.

The Canadian researchers sifted through some 12,000 studies conducted from
1990 to 2003 around the world, and concluded that there is no evidence that
some pesticides are less dangerous than others, rather that they have
different effects on health that take different periods to appear.

While women often register higher exposures then men because their body fat
traps the toxins from pesticides, experts note that children are
consistently the most vulnerable group.

In India, a study released by Greenpeace at the end of April titled
²Arrested Development² determined that exposure to even small doses of
pesticides impairs children's analytical abilities, motor skills and memory.

²When we started on this study, we knew we were likely to find unsettling
evidence of children damaged by pesticides,² said Kavitha Kuruganti, lead
investigator of the study, in a statement.

²But the results of a systematic, nationwide study were far more shocking
than we'd expected: 898 children from backgrounds as diverse as Tamil Nadu
and Punjab who have nothing in common but their exposure to pesticides also
share the inability to perform simple play-based exercises -- like catching
a ball or assembling a jigsaw puzzle -- simply because they've been exposed
to pesticides over a period of time,² she said.

Among four- and five-year-olds in the country's pesticide-intensive cotton
belts, the exposed children performed worse than the control group in 86
percent of the tests. Among older children, ages nine to 13, the figure was
84.2 percent.

²North-eastern states like Sikkim and Mizoram have already recognised the
risks of using pesticides and declared themselves 'organic states',² said K.
A. Chandrasekar, director of the Social Initiative for Rural People's
Integration, a local partner in the project.

²This study will show farmers the real price they have been forced to pay
for succumbing to the marketing tactics of pesticides manufacturers.²

On May 17, the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs)
will take effect. It targets an initial 12 chemicals -- known as ²the dirty
dozen² -- for elimination, nine of them pesticides. The accord, just
ratified by the necessary 50 countries, bans the use of POPs, and also
focuses on eliminating obsolete stockpiles of pesticides and toxic chemicals
that contain POPs.

The George W. Bush administration has so far refused to ratify the treaty.

But some anti-pesticide campaigners are not waiting for the federal
government to act. In the western state of California, a coalition of local
organisations, including an indigenous group, has filed a lawsuit against
the state's environmental protection agency for failing to meet goals on
reducing pesticide use and smog-causing pollutants.

Farm workers in Washington state, in the northwest, are suing the federal
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for allowing the use of two toxic
pesticides, azinphos-methyl and phosmet, despite research showing the
dangers of exposure to such chemicals.

Just last week, 13 people working in a California peach orchard were rushed
to the hospital after being exposed to the deadly nerve gas pesticide
Monitor 4 and the pesticide Penncozeb 75 DM, when the wind shifted from a
nearby potato field that was being sprayed.

Activists hope the new PANNA report will galvanise public opinion against
pesticide use the way research documenting the health effects of smoking
turned the tide against cigarette companies in the 1990s.

²The pesticides we carry in our bodies are made and aggressively promoted by
agrochemical companies,² said Skip Spitzer of PANNA. ²These companies also
spend millions on political influence to block or undermine regulatory
measures designed to protect public health and the environment.²