A Weekly News Update on Pesticides, Health and Alternatives
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Minnesota may minimize atrazine; Paraquat poisons Portugal; Pesticides endanger Uganda; more…
April 6, 2007
Minnesota mulls new controls on atrazine. State legislators have introduced three bills to regulate the use of atrazine (a weed-killer produced by Syngenta) and require the state to consider the public health impacts of other toxic pesticides. Nearly 1.8 million pounds of atrazine were sold to Minnesota’s corn farmers in 2005. The proposed laws would tighten oversight, further restrict or ban the use of dangerous pesticides, and reduce permissible levels of atrazine in drinking water. At public hearings in Minnesota in late March, University of California at Berkeley endocrinologist Tyrone Hayes cited his research findings that atrazine exposure left frogs “chemically castrated” and cited studies linking atrazine to cancer and developmental problems in animal research. While Syngenta’s spokesperson insisted that atrazine “has been used safely for more than 47 years,” Minnesota Rep. Ken Tschumper (also a dairy farmer) countered that “farmers are on the front lines of exposure” and called on the state to promote safer alternatives.
Koreans support import ban on GE rice. Responding to the threat of genetically engineered (GE or GMO) crops, farmers, activists and government officials gathered in Seoul for a March 28 seminar on “How to Secure the Safety of Rice.” The event–part of the Week of Rice Action held in 13 countries–was organized by Consumers Korea, the Korean Farmers and Fishermen’s Weekly News and PAN Asia and the Pacific (PAN AP has the story). Park Hae Sang, South Korea’s Vice-Minister of Agriculture, assured the conference participants that it was the government’s intent “to prevent importing GMO rice.” Park also noted that “Korea is the only one out of 140 rice-importing countries to have a policy requiring GMO-certification from the exporting country.” “Rice is our life and the risks of GM rice are very real,” conference organizers said. PAN-AP’s consultant Dr. Ricarda Steinbrecher added that “It is best to exercise the precautionary principle with regard to GE rice and GE food.” Clare Westwood, of Malaysia-based PAN-Asia/Pacific, called for a regional campaign to block GE imports. Recalling Lee Kyung Hae, a Korean farmer who committed suicide at the WTO meeting in Cancun to protest the impact of globalization on rice growers, Westwood asked: “Do we want seeds that mean the extinction of millions of small rice farmers?” Many other Week of Rice Action events are reported by PAN AP.
Controversy grows over Florida students’ air-pollution tests. In December, Alex Lowe and ReAnna Green, two seniors at Pedro Menendez High in St. Augustine, Florida, used PAN’s “Drift Catcher” to collect air samples for eight days next to an elementary school adjacent to cabbage fields. Sample analysis detected the presence of endosulfan, diazanon and trifluralin. The school district’s response was to hire consulting firm MACTEC to conduct new tests over three days, announcing that they detected no pesticides in the air. Principal Brian McElhone said the result confirmed “what we already know, that [the school] is a safe learning environment.” PAN’s Dr. Susan Kegley defended the student’s findings, noting that MACTEC’s methodology wasn’t sensitive enough to detect the levels of pesticides that Lowe and Green found. Kegley compared MACTEC’s approach to a surgeon “looking at her hands and drawing the conclusion that she didn’t need to scrub them before surgery because she couldn’t see any bacteria.” Kegley criticized school authorities for failing to engage neighboring farmers to reduce use of toxic pesticides. “Many pesticides inflict long term health effects,” Kegley noted, “so children exposed now might not know why they manifest reproductive or neurological problems as adults.”
Paraquat poisonings in Portugal. Syngenta, the primary manufacturer of the weed-killing pesticide paraquat, was recently put on the defensive when PAN Europe released figures on paraquat poisoning in Portugal. Portugal’s National Poison Center confirmed 36 cases of paraquat “intoxication;” the Forensic Toxicology Laboratory of Coimbra detected paraquat in 31 fatalities between January 2000 and December 2002; and a hospital in northeast Portugal recorded 20 paraquat-related deaths. “The numbers in Portugal are striking,” said PAN-Europe’s Sofia Parente, adding, “I was born in a rural area in Portugal and have seen neighbors dying from accidental exposure to paraquat.” In a 2005 study, Richard Isening of PAN-UK, noted that, while “the situation in Portugal and the EU offers reasons for concern… the situation in developing countries is incomparably worse.”
Pesticides found in pregnant California women. In a study published in Environmental Science & Technology, researchers at the University of California’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory report on a study organophosphate (OP) pesticide exposures among “almost 600 pregnant Latina women in the Salinas Valley.” While the diets of the Salinas women were found to contain the same level of OP contamination as was found nationwide, the Salinas women showed a “significantly higher” intake of (OP) pesticides overall. In 2001, 240,000 kg of OP pesticides were applied to 2,000 square kilometers of Salinas Valley. The researchers tracked “how pesticides travel from the fields through different channels into the human body” and concluded, “the real culprit… was exposure through air, water and soil.” The study revealed that 99% of the chlorpyrifos, diazinon, malathion and dimethoate on the vinyl floors and carpets inside Salinas homes arrived “by air transport.”
Pesticide dangers in Uganda. The government of Uganda has passed a new agricultural protocol to protect farmworkers but, according to Omara Amuko of the National Union of Pesticide and Agricultural Workers, the law is not being enforced. “Globally, agriculture is one of the most hazardous occupations, alongside mining and construction,” Amuko told Voice of America radio. Only one African country — tiny Sao Tome and Principe — has ratified the International Labor Organization’s Convention for the protection of farmworkers. According to Voice of America, there was “one pesticide in particular” that endangers Uganda’s coffee, tea, sugar and cut-flower workers. “It’s a very big issue,” Amuko said, “because it is acutely toxic and causes a lot of poisoning among the workers because there is no antidote.” Oddly, the radio report failed to identify this “particular” pesticide. When PAN asked Amuko about the interview, he replied: “I specifically mentioned paraquat. I even mentioned our campaign to stop production and use of paraquat. I do not know why it was left out during the editing.”
PANUPS is a weekly email news service providing resource guides and reporting on pesticide issues that don’t always get coverage by the mainstream media. It’s produced by Pesticide Action Network North America, a non-profit and non-governmental organization working to advance sustainable alternatives to pesticides worldwide.
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