PAN tests reveal toxic pesticides in Florida air; Super lice; Peach Belt poisoned; Pesticides & depression; and more…

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September 25, 2008

Florida children still at risk from pesticide drift

Florida SchoolIn 2006, two high school students made national headlines when they measured potentially harmful levels of pesticides in the air near the South Woods Elementary School in Hastings, Florida. Now, new air monitoring results (download summary PDF) from the same site reveal that the problem is actually more extensive. In October, November, and December 2007, the air near the school was contaminated with four pesticides: endosulfan, diazinon, trifluralin, and chlorothalonil—two are neurotoxins, two are suspected carcinogens, and three are or soon will be banned in Europe. Endosulfan, a highly toxic insecticide and the pesticide of greatest concern, was found in 87% the 39 samples, often in amounts that exceeded levels of concern (LOC) derived from EPA data. The LOC for infants (340 ng/m3) was exceeded in 23% of samples, and the LOC for seven-year-olds was exceeded in 21% of the samples. On three days, endosulfan levels exceeded 1,000 ng/m3. Diazinon, another neurotoxic insecticide was found in 21% of the samples. Residents collected the air samples using PAN’s Drift Catcher—a simple air sampling system that works like a vacuum cleaner, sucking airthrough tubes packed with an absorbent resin that traps pesticides.

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Pesticide products create ‘super lice’

As children head back to school and head lice season gets underway, parents and school nurses around the country are faced with a new challenge: the bugs are getting tougher. As MSNBC reports, researchers have been warning for years that lice are developing resistance to the pesticides found in over-the-counter and prescription shampoos. According to associate professor Shirley C. Gordon of Florida Atlantic University it takes only “three to five years for the bugs to adapt” to a new product. The National Pediculosis Association has for years been promoting safe products for controlling headlice that do not create resistance or put children at risk, including the distribution of specially designed “licemeister” combs. Other products expected on the market soon include a gel that smothers lice nits and a high volume hair dryer that desiccates them. Lice shampoos that contain the organochlorine pesticide lindane have been banned in California since 2001, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration so far refuses to prohibit its use in shampoos. Meanwhile, lindane is on track to be banned internationally as a persistent organic pollutant.<>
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North Carolina Peach Belt poisoned by pesticides

PeachNorth Carolina’s 1,350 acres of peach orchards are but a fragment of the approximate 16,200 acres that covered the state in 1941 but, while the orchards are gone, a deadly chemical legacy survives. According to The Charlotte Observer, “tests have found 117 tainted wells in Montgomery, Richmond and Moore counties,” 66% contaminated with unsafe levels of “pesticides that may cause cancer.” Tests have revealed dangerous concentrations of the pesticides dibromochloropropane (DBCP), 1,2-dichloropropane, and an associated chemical, 1,2,3-trichloropropane. The pesticides were used to kill nematodes that attacked the roots of peach trees. Although they were banned in 1977, tests now reveal that, 31 years later, the chemicals have seeped through 100 feet of sandy soil and poisoned the region’s groundwater “at levels as high as 55 times the federal safe drinking water standard.” DBCP causes male reproductive harm and 1,2-dichloropropane damages the liver and kidneys. “What we don’t know is whether this is the end of it,” Richmond County Manager Jim Haynes told The Charlotte Observer. “That’s the scary part.”

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Pear esters: good scents for organic growers

Over the last decade, pear ester has proven a valuable, non-toxic means of controlling the codling moth, a pest that infests pear, apple and walnut orchards. Scientists from the University of California (UC) are using pear scent (the same natural derivative that’s used to flavor jellybeans) to attract both male and female moths to traps. Hoping to make these biological pest-control practices more available to backyard gardeners and small orchards, UC Cooperative Extension scientists have mounted research as part of the Selective Organic Fruit Tree program aimed at reducing coddling moth damage without chemical pesticides. Capitol Press reports [PDF] a first test case was staged in the northern California town of McArthur (pop. 365). The results are promising: moth populations dropped significantly while infestation rates in nearby untreated areas remained steady. Engaging local residents was crucial since the program requires rigorous pruning, the release of natural predators, and the installation of pear-scented lures and traps in backyards. Using pear ester lures to manage coddling moths complements the ground-level release of synthetic female pheromones used to confuse male moths and disrupt mating. This approach stands in stark contrast to California’s recently canceled plan to “eradicate” the Light Brown Apple Moth through the aerial spraying of CheckMate™, a pheromone-based concoction that included potentially hazardous ingredients contained in tiny capsules small enough to be inhaled.

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Italy says no to neonicotinoids

Bee ColonyOn September 19, the Italian government banned the use of clothianidin, fipronil, imidacloprid, and thiamethoxam — four neonicotinoid pesticides blamed for the deaths of millions of European honeybees. Neonicotinoids are systemic chemicals that infuse throughout a plant and attack the nervous system of any insect that nibbles any part of the plant. According to Germany’s Coalition against Bayer Dangers, the problem with these systemic poisons is that “the substances also get into the pollen and the nectar and can damage beneficial insects such as bees.” Germany and Slovenia banned sales of the pesticides in May. France, has restricted imidacloprid use since 1999 and recently refused to authorize use of clothianidin. Worldwide sales of clothianidan and associated pesticides earned manufacturer Bayer CropScience $8.6 billion in 2007. Imidacloprid is Bayer’s best-selling pesticide.

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Pesticides and depression

A report in the September 9 edition of Environmental Health Perspectives provides evidence that “both acute high-intensity and cumulative pesticide exposure may contribute to depression in pesticide applicators.” Researchers from the University of Iowa evaluated “diagnosed depression and pesticide exposure” among privately employed pesticide applicators in Iowa and North Carolina between 1993 and 1997 The study included 17,051 pesticide applicators who reported no significant episodes of depression and another 534 pesticide applicators who self-reported a physician-diagnosed depression. Lifetime pesticide exposures were ranked as “low” (less than 226 days), “intermediate” (between 226-752 days) and “high” (more than 752 days) along with “high-pesticide exposure events” and actual “physician-diagnosed pesticide poisoning.” After adjusting for “state, age, education, marital status, doctor visits, alcohol use, smoking, solvent exposure” and other factors, the researchers reported that “pesticide poisoning was more strongly associated with depression.” The researchers concluded “both acute high-intensity and cumulative positive exposure may contribute to depression in pesticide applicators. Our study is unique in reporting that depression is also associated with chronic pesticide exposure in the absence of a physician-diagnosed poisoning.”

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Pesticides and Parkinson’s Disease

While many studies have linked pesticide exposure to Parkinson’s disease, an article in The Journal of Agromedicine reports on new research from the East Texas Medical Center (ETMC) and the University of Texas Health Science Center (UTHSC) that is the first to suggest that a specific pesticide may increase the risk of contracting the disease. The Tyler Morning Telegraph reports that an 18-month study of 1,400 patients found “people with Parkinson’s were 10 times more likely to have been exposed to rotenone.” ETMC neurologist Dr. George Plotkin warned that Parkinson’s “is something we are bringing on ourselves” through the mishandling of pesticides. Parkinson’s affects 1.5 million people in the US but rates are particularly high in the petroleum industry and the Midwest farm belt. In the U.S., Plotkin says, “one in 40 is at risk…. In our area, it’s one in four.” It may take 10 years before initial symptoms — sleep disorders, constipation – give way to tremors, paralysis and breathing difficulties. Rotenone is derived from the roots of a tropical plant. Although recognized as “mildly toxic” to animals and humans, it is widely used in home gardens. The study also found Parkinson’s sufferers were “twice as likely to have used pesticides with chlorpyrifos, such as Dursban.” The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency banned Dursban and similar organophosphate pesticides for residential use in 2000 because of the threat they pose to children’s developing brains and nervous systems, but they continue to be used in agriculture.

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Battle in Seattle: A Movement movie!

In 1999, 50,000 activists from the U.S. and other countries massed in Seattle to protest the globalization-at-all-costs agenda of the World Trade Organization. When a nonviolent protest morphed into a police riot, the National Guard was called in and the WTO meeting was called off. It was an unprecedented grassroots victory that inspired street celebrations around the world. It inspired Paul Hawkin to write a book called Blessed Unrest, and inspired actor-writer-director Stuart Townsend to spend six years working on a fictionalized account of the what the media dubbed the “Battle in Seattle.” Battle in Seattle is a powerful “indie” film with an amazing A-list cast that includes Charlize Theron, Woody Harrelson, Ray Liotta, and OutKast’s Andre 3000 dressed in a Sea Turtle costume. This is not only a film about activism, it is an agent of activism. The film’s Web site contains a number of actions that you can take to continue the struggle against globalization. Look for screenings in your city and support this film. A strong initial turn-out is needed to gain traction for a wider release.

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