Shocking Health Effects of Commonly Used Pesticide: Brain Problems, Sexual Deformities and Paralysis
Photo Credit: sakhorn/Shutterstock.com
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
Endocrine disruptors, synthetic chemicals that mimic and interfere with natural hormones, lurk everywhere from canned foods and microwave popcorn bags to cosmetics and carpet-cleaning solutions. The chemicals, which include pesticides, fire retardants and plastics, are in thermal store receipts, antibacterial detergents and toothpaste (like Colgate's Total with triclosan) and the plastic BPA which Washington state banned in baby bottles. Endocrine disruptors are linked to breast cancer, infertility, low sperm counts, genital deformities, early puberty and diabetes in humans and alarming mutations in wildlife. They are also suspected in the epidemic of behavior and learning problems in children which has coincided, many say, with wide endocrine disruptor use.
Like Big Pharma, Big Chem holds tremendous sway at the FDA, which gave the endocrine disruptor BPA a pass in March, citing " serious questions"about the applicability of damning animal studies to humans. But in April, research from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences presented new evidence of the ability of endocrine disruptors--in this case the pesticide, chlorpyrifos--to harm developing fetuses. Janette Sherman, a pesticide expert and toxicologist, has studied the effects of chlorpyrifos (found in Dow's pesticide Dursban) for many years and spoke with AlterNet about what her research has revealed.
Martha Rosenberg: Published studies, including your own, signaled safety problems with Dursban years ago. The EPA's own data found eight out of 10 adults and nine of 10 children had "measurable concentrations." Dow paid a $2 million penalty for hiding Dursban's risks from 1995 and 2003 in New York. But the pesticide was not banned for residential use until 2000, and after it was banned, people were allowed to use remaining quantities. Why did the cases that you and others uncovered seem to have little effect?
Janette Sherman: Dow attorneys took my deposition for four eight-hour days in the mid-1990s and I supplied over 10,000 pages of medical records, depositions, EPA documents, patent information and toxicology studies on which I based my opinion. Even though genetic analyses were conducted for the paper and genetic causes for the defects were ruled out--siblings who were not exposed to chlorpyrifos, for example, were normal--Dow termed the cases genetic and was able to stop most, if not all, chlorpyrifos birth-defect suits.
Dow has almost unlimited money and personnel to fight families and small-town attorneys and they send multiple personnel to the EPA to argue their side. There is also no penalty for withholding information.
MR: Dow claimed there was insufficient proof of chlorpyrifos exposure.
JS: Yes and one of the ironies, that I have cited in several papers, is that monitoring data for pesticide levels, either at the time of application or at the time of birth, is simply not done. People have no records and no way of collecting records of pesticides they have been exposed to.
MR: Lorsban, the agricultural version of Dursban, is still widely in use in crops like apples, corn, soybeans, wheat, nuts, grapes, citrus and other fruit and vegetables. Virginia Rauh, the author of the recent Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences paper cautioned pregnant women to seek organic produce to avoid chlorpyrifos.
JS: I believe farm workers and pregnant women are at risk and obviously, a pesticide that is used widely in crops will also get in the drinking water. I don't know how widespread chlorpyrifos use is overseas and in poor countries but the same risks apply.
MR: You published a paper in the European Journal of Oncology in 1999 which is eerily predictive of recent Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences research about children exposed in the womb to the pesticide chlorpyrifos. This research found actual structural changes in exposed children's brains, especially related to emotion, attention and behavior control.