Americans carry toxic pesticide cocktail in their blood

SAN FRANCISCO, California, May 12, 2004 (ENS): Many U.S. residents carry unsafe levels of pesticides in their bodies, according to study released Tuesday by the Pesticide Action Network. Children, women, and Mexican Americans carry disproportionate levels of the dangerous chemicals, many of which have been linked to serious short term and long term health effects including infertility, birth defects, and childhood and adult cancers.

The San Francisco based organization analyzed data collected by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for its "Second National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals." The CDC study, released in January 2003, reported the levels of 116 environmental chemicals - including 34 pesticides - in 9,282 people nationwide.

"None of us choose to have hazardous pesticides in our bodies," said Kristin Schafer, Pesticide Action Network (PAN) program coordinator and lead author of the report. "Yet CDC found pesticides in 100 percent of the people who had both blood and urine tested."

PAN's report, called "Chemical Trespass: Pesticides in Our Bodies and Corporate Accountability," found the average person in the study carried 13 of the 23 pesticides analyzed by the organization.

This finding supports the concern that Americans are increasingly carrying what PAN describes as a "toxic cocktail of pesticides."

"While the government develops safety levels for each chemical separately, this study shows that in the real world we are exposed to multiple chemicals simultaneously," said Dr. Margaret Reeves, a senior scientist at PAN, which is a global network of grassroots organizations that advocates alternatives to pesticide use.

"The synergistic effects of multiple exposures are unknown, but a growing body of research suggests that even at very low levels, the combination of these chemicals can be harmful to our health," Reeves said.

More than 800 pesticides are licensed for use in the United States and an estimated one billion pounds of pesticide active ingredients are applied nationwide each year.

Of concern to public health officials is their limited knowledge about human exposure and health effects, in particular among children, for the chemicals used in pesticides.

In addition, the CDC said in its report last year that the measurement of a pesticide or other environmental chemical in a person's blood or urine does not indicate a threat to human health.

Even the ability to test for these chemicals is limited. The CDC says it can currently measure only 50 pesticides or their metabolites in blood and urine samples.

But the potential for many pesticides to cause harm is widely known, PAN contends, and its report paints a worrying picture for children in particular.

For example, the CDC data analyzed by PAN found the average six year old child sampled is exposed to the organophosphorous pesticide chlorpyrifos at four times the level the federal government considers "acceptable" for long term exposure, according to the study.

Chlorpyrifos is an insecticide that has been on the market for more than three decades - it kills insects by disrupting their nervous systems.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) restricted chlorpyrifos for most residential uses in 2000, but the insecticide continues to be used widely in agriculture and other settings.

It has been shown to disrupt hormones and interfere with normal development of the nervous system in laboratory animals.

A spokesman for Dow Chemical, the largest manufacturer of chlorpyrifos, says the report overplays the concern about the presences of this chemical - and other pesticides - in blood or urine.

"When people are exposed, the product breaks down rapidly and is eliminated from the body in a matter of days," said Dow spokesman Garry Hamlin in a statement.

"Chlorpyrifos has been the subject of more than 3,600 studies and reports evaluating it in terms of human health and the environment," he said. "No pesticide has been more thoroughly studied."

PAN's report also found that women have significantly higher levels of three of the six organochlorine pesticides evaluated.

This class of pesticides is known to have multiple harmful effects when they cross the placenta during pregnancy, including reduced infant birth weight and disruption of brain development, which can lead to learning disabilities and other neurobehavioral problems.

Mexican Americans carry "dramatically higher" body burdens of chemicals linked to five of the 17 evaluated pesticides in urine samples, according to PAN's analysis.

These pesticides include the insecticides methyl parathion, lindane and DDT.

PAN's report contends that pesticide manufacturers and the federal government are to blame for the problem of pesticide body burden.

Manufacturers have aggressively promoted their products and have spent "millions on political influence to block or undermine regulatory measures designed to protect public health and the environment," said Skip Spitzer, corporate accountability program coordinator at PAN.

The report calls on the U.S. Congress to investigate the health concerns of the pesticide body burden and the corporate responsibility of pesticide manufacturers for this contamination.

It urges that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ban use of pesticides known to be hazardous and pervasive and immediately phase out all uses of chlorpyrifos and lindane.

In addition, the report calls on the EPA to require that manufacturers bear the burden of proof for demonstrating that a pesticide does not harm human health before it can be registered.

PAN program director Monica Moore said, "The fact that our children carry dangerous pesticides in their bodies represents a dramatic failure in the way our government protects us from toxic pesticides."

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2004. All Rights Reserved.

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