USA's body burden

People here carry a cocktail of pesticides in their bodies

Published: Thursday 15 September 2005

-- Over 90 per cent of us residents carry a cocktail of pesticides in them, according to the Third National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals released by the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (cdc) on July 21, 2005.

The cdc bio-monitoring program tested the blood and urine of thousands of subjects across the country for 148 chemicals, 43 of them pesticides -- just over three per cent of the 1,284 pesticide-active ingredients in tens of thousands of products currently registered in the us. "This study highlights the tip of a toxic iceberg," said Margaret Reeves, a senior scientist at the Pesticide Action Network. " cdc evaluated only a fraction of the total number of pesticides used every day in agricultural fields, homes and gardens and found many of these toxins in our bodies."

Pesticides and chemicals infiltrate our bodies in a myriad of ways, including ingestion, inhalation and absorption via the skin. In many cases, pesticide exposure levels far exceeded the officially permitted limits set by federal health and environmental agencies. The average person studied had 13 pesticides in his / her body: the two chemicals found in nearly all those tested were tcp, a metabolite of the insecticide chlorpyrifos -- found in 93 per cent of subjects -- and pp- dde, a breakdown product of ddt -- found in 99 per cent of subjects.

But they were banned Most of the pesticides found, such as ddt, or chlordane and dieldrin, have been banned in the us for decades. Pyrethroids were studied for the first time, with one pyrethyroid metabolite found in over 75 per cent of those tested; suspected to be carcinogens, contact with pyrethyroids can produce diarrhoea, vomiting and neurotoxic effects. The organochlorine pesticide lindane was found in nearly half of the subjects; organochlorines are persistent bioaccumulatory pesticides, passing through the womb and breastfeeding from mother to child. Lindane continues to be used in the us, despite being banned in more than fifty countries around the world.

Potential health dangers from individual pesticides include cancer, neurological problems, damage to the nervous system, hormone disruption, birth defects, reduced fertility and developmentally damaged foetuses. However, the combined effects of the 116 chemicals found by cdc -- a small proportion of the 700-odd that scientists assert are loose in the environment -- are little-known.

Most affected Women, children and Mexican Americans carried the highest levels of pesticides. Lead and cadmium were found in blood samples in all people aged one year and older. Children -- more susceptible to the effects of exposure -- often had higher levels of some pesticides in their bodies than adults, exposed to the highest levels of organophosphorus pesticides (known to damage the nervous system). The average 6-11 year old cdc studied was exposed to chlorphyrifos at four times the "acceptable" level determined by the us Environmental Protection Agency, despite its use being restricted.

Adult women possessed high levels of organochlorine pesticides, a cause for concern for many of these chemicals have multiple negative effects during foetal development, including reduced birth weight and poor neurological development. A study recently released by the Environmental Working Group, based on foetal cord blood samples, reported foetal exposure to 287 chemicals, especially hexachlorobenzene, dieldrin and ddt. Comparative exposure amongst ethnic groups also showed that Mexican Americans had significantly higher concentrations of five out of seventeen pesticide metabolites in their urine, as well as higher levels of the residue products of lindane and ddt.

The cdc report clearly indicates that most people in the us carry a considerable body burden of pesticides and their breakdown products. On the whole, the public is unaware of the true extent of the pollution shown in cdc's work. In response to the report, the Pesticide Action Network, North America has issued a series of recommendations, mostly focusing on the need for pesticide producers and the federal government to assume due responsibility in screening the defenceless public from dangerous chemicals. These include the comprehensive banning of organochlorines and all other bioaccumulative pesticides, as well as the final banning of lindane and widely used hazardous pesticides such as chlorpyrifos. Such actions, the non-governmental organisation demanded, must be backed by enforced policies and the development of ecologically sustainable pest management technology.

cdc's Third National Report definitively shows the serious and widespread nature of pesticide exposure in the vast majority of the us population, and the resultant implications for the rest of the world. The data ultimately provides the tools to carry the fight against pesticides forward; it is now up to people to act.

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