Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)
A Weekly News Update on Pesticides, Health and Alternatives
See PANUPS archive for complete information.
- Fumigant pesticide suspected in girls' deaths
- Health advocates tell Congress: Time to protect next generation
- New study shows more pesticide links to Parkinson's
- California's newest carcinogen: Senate Food & Ag chair says no!
- EPA reviews new science on atrazine; WI ban proposed
- Monsanto thwarted in India - GE eggplant blocked
A 15-month-old and her four-year-old sister have died and the rest of the family was sickened in Layton, Utah, after an extermination company treated their yard with Fumitoxin pellets to control voles. Fumitoxin contains aluminum phosphide, which upon contact with moisture releases phosphine, a lethal gas with no antidote. Investigators detected toxic levels of the gas in the family's home following the first death and are awaiting autopsy results that they expect will confirm phosphine poisoning as the cause of death.
The Fumitoxin label specifies an application rate of just two to four pellets per rodent burrow and that it should not be used within 15 feet of homes or occupied structures. Investigators have determined that the exterminator used a total of 1.5 lbs of product in the yard and applied it seven feet from the front door. Authorities have not ruled out filing charges against the company.
Aluminum phosphide is a powerful fumigant rarely used in home pest control. Utah's KTSU news interviewed an uninvolved pest control operator who said, "We've never purchased this stuff, it's just not worth having around ... It's not real practical, it's not safe enough to be worth it." PAN Staff Scientist Karl Tupper stressed the dangers of aluminum phosphide: "Sadly, this incident is the latest in a long string of poisonings involving this product. It's apparent that this chemical is just too dangerous to remain on the market. There's no room for error when using a poison like this, but people are human and they make mistakes, cut corners, and get complacent with safety. Such lapses should be anticipated by regulators when a product as hazardous as Fumitoxin is proposed for registration."
Contributions to assist the family can be made to the Rebecca and Rachel Toone Trust Fund at any Wells Fargo Bank.
Environmental health advocates are mobilizing this week to demand action from Congressional leaders on chemicals that put future generations at risk. The current snowstorm in Washington, D.C. delayed a scheduled hearing in the House of Representatives on persistent bioaccumulative toxins (PBTs), a class of long-lasting chemicals that build up in the bodies of humans and other animals. The hearing is part of a broader chemical policy reform effort gaining momentum in Congress, as lawmakers consider updating the Toxic Substances Control Act. Pesticide Action Network is currently gathering signatures on a petition calling on Congress to protect future generations by prioritizing action on persistent chemicals as a key part of this broader reform. Representative Bobby Rush (D-IL), Chair of the Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection, will likely reschedule the hearing on PBTs and their health effects for later this month.
PBTs are inherently dangerous. They can last for many years in the environment, and even small amounts can harm human health - becoming increasing hazardous over time since toxicity increases as the chemicals concentrate up the food chain. Many PBTs can pass from mother to child during pregnancy and breastfeeding, and some can be transported across national boundaries on wind and water currents, eventually accumulating in the polar regions. The traditional foods of indigenous communities of the Arctic are heavily contaminated with PBTs. The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, which has been adopted by 169 countries across the globe, targets transportable PBTs for global phaseout. The U.S. has signed but not ratified the treaty. "EPA authority to regulate PBT chemicals is a necessary ingredient of U.S. leadership on chemicals, and a valuable tool to protect the health of millions of Americans," said Daryl Ditz, senior policy adviser on chemicals at the Center for International Environmental Law, in an interview with Energy & Environment News.
A recent epidemiological study by the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis has added to the growing body of evidence that supports the link between Parkinson’s disease and pesticide exposure, according to Yale Environment 360. The study, which looked at rates of the disease in Medicare patients over the age of 65, showed high concentrations in the Northeast and Midwest. Significant, the study’s authors say, because “These are the two regions of the country most involved in metal processing and agriculture, and chemicals used in these fields are the strongest potential environmental risk factors for Parkinson's disease that we've identified so far."
Parkinson's is a progressive brain disorder that is often fatal. It begins when brain cells that produce dopamine begin to die. Because it serves as a chemical messenger helping to control muscle activities, loss of dopamine leads to progressive loss of muscular control, and in turn results in a variety of symptoms such as stiffness, tremor, slow movement and difficulty walking. As the disease progresses, the patient may develop difficulty speaking, symptoms of senility similar to Alzheimer's and severe depression. It currently affects over a million people in the United States, and according to findings of the Agricultural Health Study, individuals who reported working with pesticides on more than 400 days in their lifetimes had “nearly a two-fold greater risk of Parkinson’s disease compared to those who had applied pesticides for fewer days.” Two agricultural workers diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in France have recently won legal recognition of their condition as an occupational disease due to pesticide exposure. The Ecologist reports that their greatest difficulty was in “finding clear evidence from scientific studies and asking doctors to make the link between exposure to pesticides and a medical condition.”
In the United States, studies have linked Parkinson’s disease with numerous pesticides, including PAN Bad Actors propargite, methomyl, chlorpyrifos, lindane, paraquat and methyl bromide, but personal injury suits against pesticide manufacturers are extraordinarily difficult because the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act preempts court action as long as the manufacturer complies with EPA labeling and packaging requirements. Kathryn Gilje, Executive Director of Pesticide Action Network, said, “Farmers are on the front lines when it comes to pesticide exposure. Scientific data link Parkinson's disease along with several cancers, birth defects and other health impacts with exposure to pesticides, but pesticide corporations have argued for years that their products should be innocent until proven guilty. PAN believes that pesticide corporations should be held responsible for health damages of their products; and that the burden of proof should rest on pesticide corporations to prove that their chemicals are safe before they are released."
California’s Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) expects to make a decision on the registration of methyl iodide as a new soil fumigant by the end of February, according to the Capital Press. The chemical is manufactured and marketed for use as a pesticide by the chemical giant Arysta. The state Senate's Food and Agriculture Committee held a hearing on Monday, where committee chair Dean Florez invited testimony on the risks of the carcinogenic chemical, saying, "The day is coming when we're going to be moving past these particular substances. It has to." Four scientists testifying agreed. Chemistry professor Neil Schore, University of California-Davis, said the chemical, which "'was previously used only for research, including such purposes as inducing cancer in laboratory cells — is too difficult to control... I can't imagine [how it could be applied safely in farming],' Schore said. 'It just moves too fast.'" Dr. Susan Kegley, consulting chemist with Pesticide Action Network, says: “It is difficult to over-state how hazardous this chemical is, and how inappropriate it is for agricultural uses.... Methyl iodide is a highly reactive chemical, and it cannot be contained once it is released into the environment. For those who spend time near fields where this pesticide is applied, this will likely translate into more miscarriages, more cancer, more thyroid disease, and more nervous system disorders. Workers involved in the application of methyl iodide will have the highest exposures and the most significant health problems.”
A special Scientific Review Committee was convened by DPR to assess the safety of using methyl iodide to "sterilize" fields before planting strawberries, grapes and other crops. The Committee's final report (PDF), which found (PDF) that "any anticipated scenario for the agricultural...use of this agent would...have a significant adverse impact on the public health," was posted on DPR's website on Feb. 11. DPR wasn’t the only agency waiting on the report: on September 25, 2009, U.S. EPA publicly agreed to reopen its decision on methyl iodide. During EPA's registration process at the tail end of the Bush era, more than 50 scientists across the country — five of them Nobel Laureates in chemistry — sent a letter to EPA (PDF) expressing astonishment that the agency “would even consider the introduction of a chemical like methyl iodide into agricultural use." The scientists reported that chemists working with methyl iodide in the laboratory “use the smallest amounts possible and take great precautions to avoid exposure” to this risky chemical. There's still time to tell California's governor to say no to methyl iodide.
Last week, EPA’s Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP) met for the first time to review recent research on the fetal risks of atrazine. In Spring 2009, two studies were released linking atrazine to higher rates of birth defects and low birth weight. And last week, a new University of Washington study linked fetal exposure to atrazine (via contaminated drinking water) to gastrioschisis, a particular type of abdominal wall birth defect wherein intestines or other organs develop outside the fetal abdomen. University of Washington researchers cross-referenced U.S. Geological Survey data on high levels of surface water contamination by atrazine with 805 cases of birth defects and found mothers who lived less than 25 miles from locations with high contamination rates were more likely to give birth to babies with gastrioschisis. Rates of gastrioschisis have increased two- to four-fold in the last 30 years. First approved in 1958, atrazine has been in wide use for decades, and is found more frequently than any other pesticide in U.S. drinking water — in 71% of samples according to USDA data.
According to Science News, the SAP reviewed five studies, including last spring's studies. Aaron Niman, an EPA scientist sitting on the panel, described the Ochoa-Acuna research linking atrazine to low birth weight as "probably the strongest of the studies" because it included individual atrazine-exposure estimates, water contamination data spanning many years, and established birth weights from state registries. Tim Pastoor, principal scientist for Syngenta — the primary producer of atrazine for the U.S. — claimed that "the studies that Niman reviewed 'all have fundamental flaws'". "Indeed, he noted in a prepared statement, 'the same uptick in birth defects in spring months is seen throughout the United States, regardless of atrazine usage.'" U.C. Berkeley atrazine researcher Tyrone Hayes responded that atrazine's persistence allows it to move long distances: "USGS can measure atrazine in the rainwater in Minnesota that was applied in Kansas." Meanwhile, Wisconsin state representative Gary Heble of Sun Prairie has introduced a bill to ban the use of atrazine in the state.
The rise of food democracy in India appears to have paid dividends for local farmers. On Tuesday the government announced a moratorium on Monsanto’s genetically engineered brinjal (eggplant). Monsanto and its partner, the Indian seed company Mahyco, engineered a brinjal seed carrying a gene from the naturally occurring soil bacterium, Bacillus thurigensis (Bt), which is toxic to insects. The joint venture sought to have the GE seed introduced to Indian farms. Yet waves of public outcry and protests reverberated through the country and were difficult to ignore. DNA India reports that, in announcing the decision, Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh stated, “It is my duty to adopt a cautious, precautionary principle-based approach and impose a moratorium on the release of Bt Brinjal till such time independent scientific studies establish, to the satisfaction of both the public and professionals, the safety of the product from the point of view of its long-term impact on human health and environment, including the rich genetic wealth existing in brinjal in our country.” In comments to The Hindu, Dr. V.S. Vijayan, Chair of the Kerala State Biodiversity Board, said that the decision "forestalled the surrender of the country’s food security to multinational companies, such as Monsanto and Mahyco".