Archives for category: Pesticides

From Earth Justice:

Each year, nearly one billion pounds of pesticides are sprayed into fields and orchards around the country. As the families who live nearby can tell you, those pesticides don’t always stay in the fields and orchards.

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From EurActiv:

Shanna H. Swan, a renowned scientist specialising in reproductive medicine, has warned about the health effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) known as phthalates which can end up in food via pesticides or plastics. In an interview with EurActiv, she calls on regulators to better protect consumers against those “hidden chemicals”.

Shanna H. Swan, PhD is Professor and Vice-Chair for Research and Mentoring Department of Preventive Medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Dr Swan is known for her work on the impact of environmental exposures on male and female reproductive health and has served on the National Academy of Science’s Committee on Hormone-Related Toxicants. She was speaking to EurActiv’s editor, Frédéric Simon.

You are a well-known scientist in the field of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs), which you have been researching for many years. What were your main findings?

The major findings I have are that certain EDCs – and I’ve looked specifically at pesticides, phthalates and Bisphenol A – are significantly related to human development, more strongly when exposure is foetal but also some adult exposures.

Has exposure tended to increase over time?

There are some studies of old stored samples. That’s the only way we can know about a person’s exposure. So to put this in context, unlike studies of smoking or pharmaceuticals where you can ask the person what their exposure was, you cannot learn anything – or very little – about a person’s exposure from EDCs by asking them what they do.

These are chemicals that are hidden – I call them stealth chemicals – and for this reason the only way we can know what the exposure was is to measure it in biological samples, either in urine or blood. Urine is usually easier and for various technical reasons preferable for the non-persistent chemicals.

When older samples are available and have been looked at, they have shown that levels were lower in the past. I can’t unfortunately be more specific but I could point you to some references.

So these go as far back as the 1960s?

There was one study in 1958 called the Collaborative Perinatal Project which had stored urine. There was a Kaiser California study in the early 60s which had stored samples. So these are very rare studies, they are the only ones.

In the most recent years some of the phthalates, for example DEHP, has decreased with the substitution. So we can pick up certain trends in use in these national samples of urinary metabolites.

Do we know precisely what the sources of exposure are?

For that, you have to go chemical by chemical. So if we restrict ourselves to phthalates, you still have to narrow that further because phthalates have different uses. Some phthalates are added to tubing to make it soft, particularly DEHP.

This is in the tubing in hospitals, in the tubing for milking cows, whenever you want a soft, flexible, plastic, you will take DEHP. Whatever is passing through that, particularly if it’s warm, it will absorb that. In this way we get exposure through material that has passed through this.

And also from milk?

It is measurable in milk, yes. So for DEHP, our dominant route of exposure is through food and there’s some in water. But you also get DEHP if you are in a medical department and hooked up to a tube.

Phthalates have been banned in some uses already such as toys, etc. So can we consider the problem solved?

Let me just go back for a second. Phthalate is a chemical class and so it’s important because you ask me if there are many exposures.

If we put cosmetics on our skin, our face – men, women, children, babies – we immediately get another phthalate in our body, which is DEP. And this is very clear. If we put hair spray or put a nail polish, then we inhale that phthalate which is primarily DBP.

So it’s a complicated story because we have many sources and many routes of exposure and also differing toxicity. Now, as for whether the problem is solved – not at all. We’ve only begun to solve the problem.

But there have been bans on some of the uses of phthalates which were of most concern, such as baby bottles…

No, this was Bisphenol A, it’s another chemical class. Think of it this way. Phthalates makes plastic soft, BPA makes plastic hard. So if you have one of these sports water bottles, those were made with BPA. Hard baby bottles, that’s BPA. Lining of tin cans, that’s also BPA. But Phthalates are on the soft side of the equation although they are both plasticisers.

Ok, so why do I say the problem is not solved? The primary elimination of phthalates has been from children’s toys. Certainly this is important but it does not protect the most sensitive organism, and that is the developing foetus.

So a toy is something you play with after birth, the pregnant mother is getting an exposure which is for the foetus much more potent than what the child will get with a toy.

By eliminating these phthalates from children’s toys – I think it is important, excellent, I certainly support it – but I would not do that at the expense of eliminating phthalates in products to which pregnant women are exposed. Because that is the most critical target for phthalates.

There has been a lot of controversy for many years over the health risks of low-dose exposure to chemicals such as phthalates. Looking at the science, is there any evidence to support this?

Let me say three things.

First of all, there is absolutely no doubt that tiny, tiny doses of hormones can permanently alter the development of the foetus – at the right time. You cannot look at the dose alone, you must look at the dose in a particular time window, because otherwise you don’t have the toxicity captured because that’s really a product of two things: Not just the dose but the timing as well.

The next thing is a story that isn’t obviously about chemicals but just to point out that we know from some human and many animal studies that when a rodent is in utero  (in the mother’s womb), each one of those is hooked up in the uterine horn and they will be located between two other pups.

So if you look at a male between two males, and a male between two females, you can measure how much testosterone is in those two males. And the difference is significant and measurable and very, very small. It’s about a drop in an Olympic-size swimming pool. That’s how small it is. It’s an extremely low dose, one part per trillion.

And what is the consequence of exposure to this?

The consequence is that the rodent that is a male between two males grows to be more aggressive, more masculine in behaviour and in his general development. He will have a stronger sperm count; he will be more fertile. And there’s no question about that, it has been shown in a number of species. And there are a number of supporting human studies. I only mention this as proof of principle that a very small amount of hormonal substance at the right time alters development.

Now let’s just go to the human situation. When people say, ‘Well the doses are too low,’ I say two things. One is, ‘Maybe so, but we are seeing effects’. So whatever dose it is, it seems to be doing something. There are probably close to 30 studies that find associations between phthalates and a variety of human health end points.

The counter-argument could be that these effects could be coming from something completely different.

Exactly. Not the counter argument, but a relevant, additional point is that, we are never exposed to one chemical. In fact a recent study found 200 chemicals on average in babies at birth.

That means that in utero the babies had 200 chemicals circulating in their bodies affecting their development, on average. The maximum in that study sample of ten was 287. So we are unquestionably exposed, and the foetuses as well.

So yes, there are many chemicals and statistically you can ask what are the associations with just DEHP metabolites, just DBP metabolites. But it’s not the most efficient way to do it. Better is to ask what about co-exposure to all of those? What about the cocktail effect?

Now, we cannot reasonably, with the sample sizes we have available, yet look at the 200 all together. But we could look at and do look at multiple exposures. So the fact that they may be quite low individually, we know that these doses add up, and so if you have several of these, you already add up to a much higher dose.

Do we know specific combinations that are particularly harmful?

Yes, among the DEHP metabolites, there are many of them, we currently look at four or five of them and can assess the sum of them. That’s one example but there are others.

This sounds quite scary. How should consumers behave or react? If my wife was pregnant what should I be telling her?

I get this question all the time. It’s a frustrating question because I can only give you a partial answer. On a simple side, I would tell her she could limit her exposure to harmful personal care products.

And the reason we can give this advice is that they have been looked at quite carefully by a number of NGOs, and specifically I point you to the Environmental Working Group website called ‘Not Too Pretty’, where they actually go through product by product and talk about the chemicals in them. That’s a nice tool for consumers.

You can also say, just a blanket precaution: Do not use air fresheners, do not spray things in your house, products and so on.

Where it gets more problematic is that even when we tell people all these things, only in rare situations can we remove these chemicals from their body. And one of the major reasons is that they are so deeply hidden, you can check the label on the lotion but you can’t check the label on your spaghetti sauce or on your bottle of milk and so on.

So we need to give consumers the tools to make informed choices. And at this point we don’t have those tools.

You mean labelling?

Labelling, yes, and also advice about behaviour – for example not to store in plastic, not to microwave in plastic.

What I tell people if you want to do the best you can, buy local produce, buy it unprocessed, buy it organic. There is a population in New York that does this, and that is the Old Order Mennonites [an anti-technology religious group similar to the Amish]. They’re quite severe, they grow everything themselves, they don’t drive in cars, they don’t use sprays… and they have very low levels of environmental chemicals.

And that has been scientifically measured?

Yes, we measured how many phthalates and phenols were in their urine and they had almost none. And it’s interesting because a couple of women did have peaks. One was a woman who used a hairspray. And you could see this because we asked what did you do before you came here and gave your urine? And this woman said, ‘Well, I was not supposed to but I used hairspray because I was going out.’ And there we see the peak for MBP in her urine.

And then another woman rode in a car even though they don’t do this normally and you see another peak. So in an extreme situation – which to most consumers is quite radical action – you can eliminate.

Another population was given regular food and then they fasted. Their urine was tested under the normal diet and after 48 hours of fasting and they had no DEHP in their urine at all.

Of course we can’t all fast! So I think we have to make it much easier for consumers to avoid these products.

In terms of chemical presence in food, there have been measures taken at EU level to reduce the use of pesticides. In France for example there is an objective of halving the use of pesticides by 2018, and there have been bans on aerial spraying and things like that. Are these steps sufficient to reduce the risk of contamination in food?

Well, removing pesticides certainly removes one source of exposure to EDCs – and a very important one, and I think this is great.

By the way, aside from phthalates, we found a number of pesticides and herbicides in the Midwest where they were associated with a lower sperm count. So these are acting as well. Also I should point out that phthalates are actually in pesticides – they are put in there to increase absorption.

So these measures to reduce pesticide use are certainly a good thing to do but it won’t do the whole job. As long as the food is processed in contact with phthalates or Bisphenol A, canned, shipped in plastic, stored in plastic or cooked in Teflon, there are just a lot of occasions along the way to pick endocrine-disrupting chemicals.

And pesticide removal is certainly a very important first step but then we have to worry about what happens to the food after it is picked and along the rest of the chain from farm to fork.

In Europe, we have minimum residue levels for pesticides in food below which ingestion is not considered to pose any risk for human health. Are you saying these should be lowered further?

I cannot comment on permissible level of pesticides. But I can comment on the question of a threshold. We have many examples in environmental science – the best I think is lead – that no matter how we keep dropping the permissible level, we see adverse effects still at a lower level.

And I think that what we have to keep in mind is that to some particular sensitive populations and particularly sensitive periods, perhaps the level has to be reduced further. But there will have to be some practical level – obviously we can’t remove everything entirely.

You may be aware that in Europe we have this REACH regulation on chemicals which is undergoing a review this year. Are you encouraging policymakers to tighten REACH even further?

For me the most important thing about REACH it that it alters the burden of proof. Of the 80,000 chemicals in commerce in the world, 62,000 were just blessed and assumed to be safe in the United States.

That is actually the default assumption still in the United States: That until a chemical is proven harmful it is assumed to be safe. This of course places the burden of proof on the consumer, to prove harm, which is not where the burden should be in my opinion. So generally shifting the burden of proof I think is extremely important and should be implemented in US policies as well.

The US must actually follow REACH if they are going to export to Europe. What has been the impact on the US industry the way you see it?

I can’t tell you that. I do know that that is not the default assumption in regulation. So whether they do something different to send things to Europe, I’m sure they have to, and I’m sure they do, but it is not what they accept as their burden to prove safety before a product is marketed.

As far as whether the regulation should be tightened, that is a very broad question. And what I have an opinion about is that I feel that endocrine disruption is a category deserving its own regulation. It’s different enough from reproductive toxicity and carcinogenicity. The risk assessment for endocrine disruption is different. The scientific issues are different enough that it would protect public health much further if we could deal with this as a class of chemicals. So that’s where I see maybe tightening up.

For you as a scientist, the link between endocrine-disrupting chemicals, the ones you have been studying, and lower fertility has been proven and is scientifically watertight? Can it be argued against?

Watertight? This is never the case, of course. There are still people here who argue cigarettes don’t cause lung cancer. Of course it will always be argued against.

I think we have now a lot of data that environmental chemicals can and do lower sperm count, impact time to conception, increase foetal loss in early pregnancy, affect pregnancy outcomes. Do we need more studies? Of course we do. But do we have enough information to act on these studies that we have? I say that we do.

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From :

Is eating organic more expensive? In the long-run the answer would be NO. Synthetic pesticides or fertilizers used on vegetables and fruits affects our health. Pesticides have demonstrably elevated rates of asthma, leukemia, and prostate cancer.

From Red Bluff Daily News:

Pesticide drift from a commercial strawberry field in the Bend area has a group of residents actively concerned about how the chemicals used will affect their health.

When Sam Sleezer, 37, and his father-in-law Manuel Silveira, 65, installed new scientific devices to measure air quality on their neighboring properties in the Bend area, they hoped that they would find their concerns were unwarranted.

I’m not against farming, Silveira said.

However, results came back that levels of a toxic chemical found were far above safe levels beyond the time frame that it was supposed to be in the air.

The two men brought their concerns to the state capitol March 20 as discussion in the Department of Pesticide Regulation reached a climax over the use of methyl iodide that was approved under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The following day, the manufacturer for methyl iodide pulled the product and decided to no longer distribute it for use in the U.S.

However, similar chemicals, such as methyl bromide and chloropicrin are still in use and part of the compound applied in the Bend strawberry fields.

Concerned about his children, Sam and Manny, ages 3 and 5, who play just feet from the 50-plus acre field, Sleezer is considering moving if the county continues to allow the company to use dangerous chemicals.

Another neighbor already moved because of concerns, he said. There are still 17 children total that live all around the same field.

County officials say that Driscoll Strawberry Associates Inc., the owners of the field next to the Silveira and Sleezer properties, is within the legal limits and they have no good reason to deny the company a permit to fumigate.

County Agricultural Commissioner Rick Gurrola, who has the authority to approve or deny the grower’s pesticide use permit, based his decision on scientific data and evaluation from a legal standpoint, he said.

There’s risk with all chemicals, Gurrola said.

There’s risk with gasoline.

However, California is one of the most heavily regulated states and many chemicals banned here are used in other states, he said.

The chemicals used by Driscoll are within regulation.

The scientific data collected by the residents is flawed, Gurrola said.

Data was collected incorrectly and they are using uncertified equipment or techniques.

Sleezer and Silveira, who helped form Healthy Tehama Farms, a group of at least 20 individuals who are working to protect the community from dangerous exposure to fumigants, got a grant for $3,000 to perform the air quality tests.

The equipment, Drift Catchers invented by the Pesticide Action Network, collects air samples in small tubes that can be analyzed later for pesticide levels.

After analysis was completed at University of California at Davis, the report showed that over the eight-day study, during and after the fumigants were applied, Nov. 4-11, 2011, concentrations of chloropicrin, a known carcinogen, were on average twice as high as the acceptable levels determined by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation.

The results imply that lifetime exposure at those levels would cause 151 excess cases of cancer per 1 million people on average.

Silveira bought his property from a man who suffered from thyroid cancer, and with a quick glance across the field, he could name several other neighbors who had incidents of cancer as well.

He and Sleezer had heard complaints about sore throats, burning eyes and other illnesses when the fumigants were used, but nobody could prove it was from the pesticides.

Sleezer, a former soldier, remembered checking the mail in a community locked box next to the strawberry field when he suddenly felt as if he was back inside a gas chamber, he said. He and his wife felt their eyes and throats burning.

Some of the families are given a stipend and asked to stay away for three days when the fumigants are applied.

Sleezer, who works as a child guardian for supervised family visitations, keeps free-range specialty chickens as a hobby.

After a time away, he returned home to a nightmare, he said.

I came home and 28 chickens were strewn all over the yard dead, Sleezer said.

Clearing them out before his sons could see them, he saved some of the animal carcasses to try to find out what killed them.

After some testing, he still doesn’t know why they died, but the timing of the pesticide use was odd, he said.

Healthy Tehama Farms and the Pesticide Action Network have asked three times for the county to deny a permit to Driscoll Strawberry Associates without success.

More.

From The Independent:

Man-made chemicals present in homes, schools, offices, cars and food are probably contributing to the sharp rise in obesity and diabetes in western societies, according to a review of scientific literature published today.

Until now lifestyle factors such as lack of exercise and poor diet were believed to be the primary causes of the increased incidence of both conditions, whose proliferation has strained global health budgets.

While these remain undisputed factors, the review of 240 scientific papers by two leading experts, Professor Miquel Porta of Spain and Professor Duk-Hee Lee of South Korea, suggests chemicals in plastics and other surfaces play an important and avoidable role.

Their study assessed the impact of chemicals including the now banned PCBs, the plastic-softeners phthalates, and the plastic-hardener Bisphenol A, or BPA, a common substance in food packaging and plastic bottles which The Independent has written widely about. All 240 studies they reviewed – whether in test-tubes, on animals or on humans – had been peer-reviewed and published in scientific journals.

The paper, the Review of the Science Linking Chemical Exposures to the Human Risk of Obesity and Diabetes, found some of the chemicals appeared to have a causal effect on obesity, some on diabetes and some on both.

Many are endocrine disruptors, which can change human hormones, including the stimulation of appetite and fat storage and regulation of sugar.

* * *

One of the study authors, Professor Miquel Porta, of the Hospital del Mar Research Institute, Barcelona, said: “The epidemics in obesity and diabetes are extremely worrying.

“The role of hormone disrupting chemicals in this must be addressed. The number of such chemicals that contaminate humans is considerable.

“We must encourage new policies that help minimise human exposure to all relevant hormone disruptors, especially women planning pregnancy, as it appears to be the foetus developing in utero that is at greatest risk”.

* * *

BPA is commonly found in the plastic lining inside tinned foods, on thermal till receipts and in consumer electronics such as mobile phones and televisions, while phthalates are present in vinyl flooring, shower curtains and children’s toys.

CHEM Trust (Chemicals Health & Environment Monitoring Trust), the British pressure group which commissioned the research, urged the UK Government and the EU to press industry to find safer alternatives.

Elizabeth Salter Green, director of CHEM Trust, said: “If exposure to hormone disrupting chemicals is programming us to be fat, it is high time that public health policy takes into account cutting edge science. Obesity and diabetes are examples of the adverse health trends linked with endocrine disruption which need to be urgently addressed.

“We are talking about prevention, not cure here, and in this time of financial squeeze, anything that can help with prevention, reducing NHS spending, is a good idea.”

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From Consumer Reports:

Findings of a Consumer Reports investigation about arsenic and lead levels in apple juice and grape juice have prompted the organization to call for government standards to limit consumers’ exposure to these toxins.

The tests of 88 samples of apple juice and grape juice purchased in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut by Consumer Reports staffers found that 10 percent of those samples had total arsenic levels exceeding federal drinking-water standards of 10 parts per billion (ppb) and 25 percent had lead levels higher than the 5 ppb limit for bottled water set by the Food and Drug Administration. Most of the arsenic detected in our tests was the type called inorganic, which is a human carcinogen. For our complete test results download Consumer Reports Arsenic Test Results January 2012.pdf.

The investigation included an analysis of the National Center for Health Statistics’ National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) database from 2003 to 2008. The results of that analysis suggest that these juices may be an important contributor to dietary arsenic exposure. Through interviews with physicians and authors of peer-reviewed studies, Consumer Reports also found mounting scientific evidence suggesting that chronic exposure to arsenic and lead even at levels below federal standards for water can result in serious health problems, especially for those who are exposed in the womb or during early childhood. FDA data and other research reveal that arsenic has been detected at disturbing levels in other foods as well.

While federal limits exist for arsenic and lead levels in bottled and drinking water, no limits are defined for fruit juices, which a recent Consumer Reports’ poll of parents confirms are a mainstay of many children’s diets. The FDA says when a fruit juice sample has 23 ppb or more of total arsenic, it will retest the sample to determine how much of it is inorganic, because according to the agency’s 2008 hazard assessment, 23 ppb of inorganic arsenic would represent a potential health risk. But that 23 ppb “level of concern” is not a mandatory limit, nor is it based on arsenic’s well-established cancer risks.

A call for arsenic standards for juice

Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, believes the FDA’s “level of concern” is an inadequate reference point for establishing a protective limit for public health. Based on Consumer Reports’ test findings, Consumers Union is urging the FDA to set a more protective standard of 3 ppb for total arsenic and 5 ppb for lead in juice. Such standards are attainable: 41 percent of the samples Consumer Reports tested would meet both thresholds.

Consumers Union was encouraged by recent discussions with FDA officials and by an FDA letter to the consumer advocacy groups Food & Water Watch and Empire State Consumer Project indicating that the agency is considering setting guidance for the level of inorganic arsenic permissible in apple juice. The agency announced that its new initiatives include collecting and analyzing up to 90 samples of apple juice from retailers across the U.S. by the end of 2011 and analyzing levels of organic and inorganic arsenic in other types of juice as well.

Consumers Union believes that the FDA already has the data it needs to set juice standards, and that a guidance level must be followed by the establishment of a legally binding standard.

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From Bay Citizen:

Organic-produce buyers who think they are striking a blow against a chemical-heavy industrial food system may be surprised when it comes to one of California’s signature fruits: those “organic” strawberries that overflow from baskets at local farmers’ markets are not nearly as organic as they may think.

In a letter sent to the United States Department of Agriculture last month, an advocacy group in San Francisco and a triad of local growers demanded an end to what they say are vague federal regulations that allow millions of pounds of toxic chemicals to be used to grow plants that eventually produce strawberries labeled as organic.

“Seeds and plant stock widely used in organic agriculture are grown with prohibited materials that violate existing regulations and that jeopardize the credibility of the organic label,” the letter reads. Signed by three growers and the Pesticide Action Network, it added that officials with the National Organic Program at the department “must act with some urgency” to support production of a berry that is sustainable from start to finish.

Berries — including blackberries, blueberries, raspberries and strawberries — present a unique challenge to growers of organic crops. They all go through at least one rotation as non-fruiting nursery plants, and during that stage are fumigated with chemicals including methyl bromide, a soil sterilizer and pesticide known to be depleting the ozone layer.

The letter singles out strawberries, a particularly pest-prone crop and the jewel of California’s fruit basket. The state pumps out crates of the berries by the millions, shipping them across the country and internationally. It also produces the majority of the world’s strawberry nursery plants.

What it lacks is a single organic nursery.

In 1984, California produced the nation’s first commercially farmed organic strawberry, sold out of the back of a truck in Santa Cruz. The owner of that truck, Jim Cochran, who now manages a 20-acre organic berry farm, Swanton Berry Farm, in Davenport on the coast north of Santa Cruz, is one of the letter’s signers.

National regulations require that organic produce be grown for three years without synthetic pesticides. Strawberries in California are grown over a five-year cycle, often starting as nursery plants in the fields of Southern California before being transplanted to the sandy soils of Northern California.Before they begin bearing fruit, virtually all plants — whether they will go on to produce conventional berries or organic ones — are treated with fumigants and other synthetic pesticides.

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From The Corporation.

From California Watch:

California’s former top pesticide regulatory official dismissed safety guidelines suggested by her own staff scientists on the grounds that they were “excessive” and too onerous for the pesticide manufacturer, recently released internal documents show.

In response, the scientists lodged a formal protest, calling the official’s actions “not scientifically credible,” according to the documents released by court order last week.

The documents amount to a “smoking gun,” says Paul Blanc, a professor of occupational and environmental medicine at UC San Francisco. Last year, Blanc helped advise the staff scientists on their evaluation of the pesticide, methyl iodide.

“The decision by the regulatory superiors was not science-based,” Blanc said.

In one of the documents, Mary-Ann Warmerdam, who led the state’s Department of Pesticide Regulation until this year, weighs a recommendation from her staff that farm workers be exposed to no more than a trace amount of methyl iodide per day. The recommendation – intended to protect farm workers from cancer and miscarriage – is “excessive and difficult to enforce,” Warmerdam wrote in April 2010, about two weeks before the department made its recommendation that California approve methyl iodide. If the restrictions on methyl iodide were approved, she wrote, the pesticide manufacturer might find the recommendations “unacceptable, due to economic viability.”

“(Warmerdam’s) method was to consult with the pesticide manufacturer and determine what was acceptable to them, and then decide on what an acceptable level of exposure was,” said Susan Kegley, a consulting scientist for the Pesticide Action Network, a group suing the state.

Department spokeswoman Lea Brooks declined to comment on the documents, citing the pending litigation. “It is inappropriate to try this case in the media,” Brooks said.

Warmerdam resigned from the department in January. Gov. Jerry Brown has yet to appoint a successor.

Methyl iodide was approved in December 2010, at the tail end of the Schwarzenegger administration. It’s a chemical fumigant used primarily by strawberry growers. A coalition of environmental and farm-worker groups has sued the state to try to ban the chemical.

As part of the suit, the groups asked the Department of Pesticide Regulation to release documents explaining how the agency decided to approve the chemical. The plaintiffs wanted to know how the agency had settled on exposure levels more than 100 times higher than what scientists within the agency believed were safe.

When pressed for documents that might reveal the agency’s rationale, Warmerdam declined to release them, citing the “deliberative process” exemption, which allows government agencies to keep the thought process behind a decision private. A public records act request filed by California Watch and KQED QUEST elicited the same response.

Earlier this month, a judge disagreed, ordering the department to release the documents, which plaintiffs shared with reporters on Thursday.

“DPR has an obligation to explain to the public the basis for its decision,” said Earthjustice attorney Greg Loarie, who is representing the plaintiffs. “The public has every right to know that DPR approved methyl iodide over the objections of its own staff scientists.”

That rift between scientists and regulators first became public last year, in an e-mail exchange unearthed by KQED QUEST and California Watch’s Public Records Act request. In the e-mails, two staff toxicologists – Lori Lim and Ruby Reed – said they had not been part of the decision to approve methyl iodide, and they stood by their original work.

“We had to read between the lines to figure out how the target levels were calculated,” they wrote. Both Lim and Reed have since resigned from the department.

The new documents show staff scientists sending their complaints up the department’s chain of command.

“I am puzzled by the numbers,” staff scientist Jay Schreider wrote in a memo to the state’s top toxicologist, Gary Patterson. Approving methyl iodide was “management’s prerogative,” Schreider wrote. But he said managers should not imply that the scientists’ findings “are the basis for that decision, or that the apparent ‘mix and match’ approach provides a scientifically credible basis for the decision.”

In his order, Judge Frank Roesch of the Alameda County Superior Court found that the “great majority” of the department’s documents should never have been withheld in the first place. As for the rest, Roesch found “the interest in public disclosure clearly outweighs agency interest in non-disclosure.”

The documents reveal a rare point of agreement between the department’s scientists and its managers: that methyl iodide may cause brain damage in developing fetuses.

When California first began evaluating methyl iodide, it took the unusual step of bringing in an outside group of scientists, hired to work alongside department scientists, as an independent peer-review group. The scientists, including UCSF’s Blanc, worried that methyl iodide could drift up from strawberry fields and be inhaled by pregnant farm workers or children playing nearby, causing subtle effects such as IQ loss, which might never be detected or traced back to the chemical.

“Methyl iodide concentrates in the fetal brain to levels well above those in the mother,” they wrote in their assessment. “There is a high likelihood that methyl iodide is a developmental neurotoxin.”

The new documents show department managers also contending with the lack of data about methyl iodide’s potential effects on developing brains. In animal tests, they wrote, “several measures of neurological deficiency were measured. … Overall, there is a need for a more thorough investigation into developmental neurotoxicity in pre- and post-natal exposures to methyl iodide, because the existing data do not address these exposures.”

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(Image Creative Commons by Donnaphoto.)

From Montreal Gazette:

People with relatively high levels of certain pesticides in their blood may have an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes — particularly if they are overweight, a new study suggests.

The study, reported in the journal Diabetes Care, is not the first to link chemical pollutants to diabetes.

A number of studies have found a connection between diabetes risk and exposure to older pesticides known as organochlorines, PCBs and other chemicals that fall into the category of “persistent organic pollutants.”

Organochlorines are now banned or restricted in the U.S. and other developed countries, after research linked them to cancer and other potential health risks. PCBs, which were once used in everything from appliances to fluorescent lighting to insecticides, were banned in the 1970s.

However, as the name suggests, persistent organic pollutants remain in the environment for years and build up in animal and human body fat.

In the U.S., diet is the main potential source of exposure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — with fatty foods, like dairy products and oily fish, topping the list.

Lab research has suggested that some persistent organic pollutants impair the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar, which could help explain the link to Type 2 diabetes.

Some of the compounds also have been shown to promote obesity, which is itself a major risk factor for diabetes, noted Riikka Airaksinen of Finland’s National Institute for Health and Welfare, who led the new study.

For the study, Airaksinen’s team measured blood levels of several persistent organic pollutants in about 2,000 older adults.

Just over 15 per cent had Type 2 diabetes. The risk was higher, the researchers found, among people with the highest levels of organochlorine pesticides.

Those with levels in the top 10 per cent were about twice as likely to have diabetes as their counterparts in the bottom 10 per cent.

But the link appeared to be limited to people who were overweight or obese.

That, the researchers write, suggests that the pollutants and body fat “may have a synergistic effect on the risk of Type 2 diabetes.”

The results alone do not prove that organochlorine pesticides were the reason for the higher diabetes risk, Airaksinen told Reuters Health in an email.

The researchers accounted for participants’ age, sex, waist size and blood pressure levels. But they had no information on things like diet and exercise habits — which might help explain the pesticide-diabetes link.

But the overall body of research, according to Airaksinen, is pointing toward a cause-and-effect relationship.

More.

From The Oklohoman:

California researchers who first established a link between two commonly used pesticides and Parkinson’s disease have found a third crop-enhancing chemical — ziram — that appears to raise the risk of developing the movement disorder. And they have found that people whose workplaces were close to fields sprayed with these chemicals — not just those who live nearby — are at higher risk of developing Parkinson’s.

In a study published in the European Journal of Epidemiology, a team of researchers led by UCLA neurologist Dr. Beate Ritz found that exposures to the trio of pesticides were higher in workplaces located near sprayed fields than they were in residences. And the combination of exposure to all three pesticides appears to be cumulative, the team led by Ritz concluded.

More.

From Wisconsin State Journal:

Many of Dr. Susan Davidson’s patients whose babies have gastroschisis, a birth defect in which the intestines grow outside of the body, come from small, agricultural towns.

Davidson, a specialist in high-risk pregnancies at St. Mary’s Hospital, said she’s seeing more pregnancies involving gastroschisis than she would expect, based on historic estimates in other states. Many involve women from rural areas.

Davidson wonders if the cases are linked to atrazine, an herbicide used on corn crops in Wisconsin and elsewhere. “This could be the tip of the iceberg,” she said.

She has asked the state to investigate.

State health officials say their data show no alarming trends, but they acknowledge shortcomings in how Wisconsin tracks birth defects. Evaluating a tie between gastroschisis and atrazine — or other possible causes of the defect — would be expensive, they say.

“You’d have to survey the mothers of the children,” said Dr. Murray Katcher, chief medical officer for community health promotion at the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. “The odds of finding a connection are very small.”

But Davidson is not alone in her suspicion. Dr. Kathy Stewart, a specialist in high-risk pregnancies at Meriter Hospital, said she’s also seeing what she considers an unusual number of gastroschisis cases.

“I think Susan is onto something with it being environmental,” Stewart said.

* * *

Davidson said she wants to further study gastroschisis in Wisconsin.

“It’s clearly something to be vigilant about,” she said.

More.

From Reuters:

Exposure to even moderate amounts of certain pesticides during pregnancy may affect infants’ birth size, a new study suggests.

Researchers found that among nearly 500 newborns whose umbilical cord blood was tested for pesticide residues, those with higher levels tended to be smaller at birth.

The chemicals in question include DDT and three other organochlorines — an older group of pesticides that are now banned or restricted in the U.S. and other developed countries, after research linked them to cancer and other potential health risks.

However, the pesticides persist in the environment for years. In the U.S., diet is the main potential source of exposure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — with fatty foods, like dairy products and oily fish, topping the list.

In the new study, researchers found that for each 10-fold increase in any of the four pesticides in newborns’ cord blood, birth weight dipped by roughly 2 to 4 ounces.

Higher levels of DDT were also linked to a decrease in head circumference, while another pesticide — hexachlorobenzene (HCB), once used as a fungicide — was tied to a shorter birth length.

The findings, reported in the journal Pediatrics, do not prove that the pesticides themselves hindered fetal growth.

One problem, the researchers say, is that people are exposed to a “huge variety of chemicals” — in the environment, household products and food, for example.

So higher pesticide levels could simply be a marker of higher chemical exposures in general.

More.

From USA Today:

Apples are at the top of the list of produce most contaminated with pesticides in a report published today by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a public health advocacy group.

Its seventh annual report analyzed government data on 53 fruits and vegetables, identifying which have the most and least pesticides after washing and peeling. For produce found to be highest in pesticides, the group recommends buying organic.

Apples moved up three spots from last year, replacing celery at the top of the most-contaminated list; 92% of apples contained two or more pesticides.

“We think what’s happening to apples is more pesticides and fungicides are being applied after the harvest so the fruit can have a longer shelf life,” says EWG analyst Sonya Lunder. “Pesticides might be in small amounts, but we don’t know what the subtle, long-term effects of many of these pesticides are yet.”

The worst offenders also include strawberries (No. 3) and imported grapes (No. 7). Onions top the “clean” list, found to be lowest in pesticides.

By choosing five servings of fruit and vegetables a day from the clean list, most people can lower the volume of pesticides they consume daily by 92%, the report says.

More.

From The Oklohoman:

California researchers who first established a link between two commonly used pesticides and Parkinson’s disease have found a third crop-enhancing chemical — ziram — that appears to raise the risk of developing the movement disorder. And they have found that people whose workplaces were close to fields sprayed with these chemicals — not just those who live nearby — are at higher risk of developing Parkinson’s.

In a study published in the European Journal of Epidemiology, a team of researchers led by UCLA neurologist Dr. Beate Ritz found that exposures to the trio of pesticides were higher in workplaces located near sprayed fields than they were in residences. And the combination of exposure to all three pesticides appears to be cumulative, the team led by Ritz concluded.

More.

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