A Weekly News Update on Pesticides, Health and Alternatives
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June 7, 2007
Another study links pesticides to risk of Parkinson's: University of Aberdeen researchers report that exposure to high levels of pesticides appears linked to a 39% increase in Parkinson's disease, a degenerative and incurable brain disorder that now afflicts 1-in-500 British citizens. While such studies cannot prove that pesticides cause specific brain disorders, Aberdeen researcher Dr. Finlay Dick told the BBC that the research "does add to the weight of evidence of an association." The study of 959 Parkinson's sufferers, published in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, reported that pesticide exposure appears to pose a greater risk than family history. "Considering many pesticides are neurotoxic," said UK Pesticides Campaign spokesperson Georgina Downs, "it isn't surprising that study after study has found associations with various chronic neurological and neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson's." She warned that these latest findings were of crucial importance to "rural residents and communities living near sprayed fields."
Pesticide by-products are making frogs croak: Three common organophosphate pesticides (OPs) -- chlorpyrifos, malathion and diazinon -- are known to be hazardous to amphibians but researchers at Southern Illinois University (SIU), Carbondale and the U.S. Geological Survey's Western Ecological Research Center suggest that the breakdown products of these chemical compounds "are 10-100 times more toxic to amphibians than their parent compounds." The pesticides have been implicated in the declines of the California red-legged frog, Cascades frog, and yellow-legged frog. "Since some of the parent pesticide compounds are already at concentrations sufficient to cause significant amphibian mortality in the Sierra Nevada, the higher toxicity of the breakdown products poses a serious problem," said study co-author Dr. Gary Fellers. Dr. Donald Sparling, a contaminants specialist at SIU, noted that "even in pristine areas of the Sierra Nevada Mountains," OPs are serious hazards to the survival of these native amphibians. Details of the study are in the journal Environmental Pollution.
Californians speak out on fumigant harm: On May 30, community members attended a meeting in Tulare County with the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) to discuss new restrictions on metam sodium, a fumigant pesticide. The Fresno Bee reports, "Farmworkers and activists ... questioned how the permit conditions would be enforced because they don't believe current standards are followed. Some called for a ban on fumigants." On May 31, community members led by Californians for Pesticide Reform (CPR) staffer Teresa DeAnda took U.S. EPA officials on a "Toxic Tour" where they listened to residents who'd been exposed during a major fumigant accident and a school principal who spoke of student illness, missed school, and behavior issues that many locals attribute to pesticide exposure. The U.S. EPA was soliciting community feedback prior to completing their Fumigant Cluster Assessment (reviewing the continued use of chloropicrin, dazomet, metam sodium/potassium, methyl bromide, and Telone). EPA heard PAN scientists Drs. Susan Kegley, Brian Hill and Chela Vasquez describe the dangers with fumigant pesticides in actual use conditions and failure of current regulations to protect health. Kim Thompson, air quality director from the Fresno Madera Medical Society, underscored how the area suffers from one of the highest rates of asthma and respiratory illness in the nation. Lupe Martinez, from Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment, joined farmworkers from Tulare and Monterey Counties and other members of Californians for Pesticide Reform in describing the range of pesticide-linked illnesses that afflict rural residents -- especially children and the elderly. Read more.
Europe says "No" to high-hazard pesticides in water: On May 22, the European Parliament voted to expand the list of chemicals to be monitored and controlled in Europe's waterways. It is hoped that by 2020 Europe's marine environment will be virtually poison-free. Sebastian Schönauer of Friends of the Earth Germany called the results "mixed," noting that "Parliament is also introducing provisions... for critical exemptions like navigation." Grazia Cioci of PAN Europe said: "We're glad that the presence of hazardous pesticides in water, such as quinoxifen, glyphosate and mecoprop will finally be monitored and better controlled," but activists expressed dismay over some far-reaching exemptions that might seriously undermine the objectives of the Water Framework Directive and the Helsinki Conventions designed to protect the Northeast Atlantic and Baltic Sea. "Parliament hasn't seized this opportunity to regulate DEHP (a toxic phthalate on PAN's Bad Actor list) more strictly and phase it out sooner," said Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) Director Génon Jensen in Brussels, noting that "there's mounting evidence of the health effects of exposure [to DEHP] in the womb. It's already regulated in toys, plastics and medical devices." Health and environmental NGOs also made a plea to include screening of safety information that has become available under REACH - see next item.
REACH debuts in Europe: Europe's new REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals) law went into effect on June 1, shifting responsibility for assuring the safety of 30,000 chemical products from European regulatory agencies to the industries that manufacture the products. REACH stipulates that if a safer chemical alternative exists, the producers are required to use it. The BBC reports that "environmental and consumer groups say the new rules do not go far enough." A coalition of eight organizations (including Friends of the Earth Europe, World Wildlife Fund and Greenpeace) warns that the chemical industry could use the review process "to further weaken current safety requirements." European NGOs issued an open letter and a report warning that the law's success depends on continued public vigilance to assure accountability from companies, politicians and "the Eurocracy." The European Commission expects it will take 11 years and 10 billion euros (US$13.5 billion) for the REACH process to conduct the required tests, but the savings in health costs should amount to some $88.8 billion over the next 30 years.
Canadians vs. workplace chemicals. Nearly 6% of Canadians suffer from environmental sensitivities and 3% are disabled by Multiple Chemical Sensitivities according to a report by the Canadian Human Rights Commission. U.S. figures are similar and rising. The Commission's report, "Medical Perspective on Environmental Sensitivities," covers a range of illnesses triggered by workplace toxins including Sick Building Syndrome, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, Fibromyalgia and Electromagnetic Sensitivity. Researchers report that approximately 60-80% of people affected were female. Allergy and Environmental Health Association of Quebec spokesperson Michel Gaudet has called for federal laws to address the problem: "It is time to reduce the quantities and variety of toxic chemicals in products, buildings, landscapes and foods," Gaudet said, "as Canadians move to using only least-toxic strategies, products and materials."Whole Foods-Wild Oats Merger Blocked: Whole Foods offered to buy the Wild Oats natural foods chain for $565 million in February, but "the merger...would mean 'higher prices, reduced quality and fewer choices,' according to the Federal Trade Commission's Bureau of Competition director," reports The Daily Green. "Federal regulators, looking to thwart a merger that would create a colossus in the U.S. organic supermarket business, will try to block Whole Foods Market Inc.'s...planned acquisition of rival Wild Oats Markets Inc." CNN reports.