Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

I could have told you this in 1986 . . .

I can't give you a link because it hasn't even been published yet, but JAMA gives a heads up to a study soon to appear in Environmental Health Perspectives.

A new study involving 18,782 farmers in North Carolina and Iowa has revealed that agricultural insecticides can cause neurological symptoms, even when the products are no longer being used. [i.e., long term, possibly irreversible damage.]. . . Farmers completed questionnaires that asked about lifetime exposure to herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, and fumigants, and their history of 23 neurological symptoms. The data . . . linked use of insecticides, including organophosphates and organochlorines, to reports of recurring headaches, fatigue, insomnia, dizziness, nausea, hand tremors, numbness and other neurological symptoms. . . .[M]ore than 25% of . . . farmers who used insecticides on more than 500 days in their lifetimes had 10 or more symptoms. About 16% of farmers who had used insecticides on less than 50 days had 10 or more symptoms.

I did a literature review on organophosphate insecticides almost 20 years ago, and it was already known that chronic, low level exposure caused long-term brain damage in monkeys. I met the director of one of our county mosquito control programs, and his neurological symptoms were immediately obvious, even without asking Sen. Frist to view the videotape.

But I can give you the link to a study that is already out in EHP, which tells you something else I already knew as a graduate student 20 years ago: glyphosate, the "active" ingredient in the popular herbicide Roundup™ isn't half as dangerous as Roundup™. The safety testing was done on glyphosate only, but Roundup™ also contains so-called "inert" ingredients which are, in fact, highly toxic, particularly a surfactant (essentially, a detergent, used to make the herbicide stick to leaves better and penetrate plant cells). A study had already shown that the wives of male farmers exposed to glyphosate herbicides in Canada had increased risk of miscarriage and premature birth. Now a study has found that Roundup™ kills human placental cells at concentrations "far below those used in agricultural practice." I knew that Roundup™ was more toxic than glyphosate alone because studies had already shown that the surfactant killed fish and other aquatic organisms. Yet licensing and regulation were based on tests of glyphosate alone.

So you could have asked a graduate student 20 years ago, or you could have waited until today for the official word. Meanwhile, these poisons were still being sprayed on fields, harming farmers, farm workers, and their offspring, and getting into the food you eat. There is a little bit of good news in that organochlorine and organophosphate insecticides are now more strictly regulated in the U.S. than they were 20 years ago. But I have an even better idea: let's stop using this stuff.

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