Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)
A Weekly News Update on Pesticides, Health and Alternatives
See PANUPS archive for complete information.
- Historic opportunity to protect farmworker kids
- Canada ends ‘weed-n-feed’
- Underactive thyroid linked to pesticide exposure
- Victory: Farmworker protections re-instated
Children in farming communities are on the front lines everyday because they live, play and learn near agricultural fields. It is a documented fact that pesticides applied to these fields don’t stay put: they drift, vaporize and land in homes, on cars and in schoolyards. Current U.S regulations fail to take this on-the-ground reality into account. As a result, rural and farmworker kids are much less protected than their urban and suburban counterparts.
“This is an ongoing environmental justice tragedy,” explains Pesticide Action Network scientist Karl Tupper. “Children in farming communities already live with higher rates of poverty and restricted access to healthcare. Add to these hurdles the lifelong hazards of pesticide exposure, and the need for swift and decisive action is clear.”
Thanks in part to work by PAN and PAN partners, a once-in-a-generation opportunity to protect children in farming communities is open between now and March 5th. U.S. EPA is currently considering three actions that, taken together, would do more to protect rural and farmworker kids than had been accomplished by the agency in many years prior. PAN is working with partners to collect tens of thousands of signatures from individuals on a public petition urging EPA to finally protect children in rural communities from pesticide drift. The petition specifically asks the EPA to:
- Grant an October 2009 request by EarthJustice, Farmworker Justice, PAN and others to mandate buffer zones around applications of organophosphate and carbamate pesticides;
- Require strong, enforceable anti-drift language on pesticide labels; and
- Incorporate the realities of rural life and farm work into how the Agency assesses risk to farmworkers and their children.
Video: PAN partner Earthjustice has just released a short video telling the story of pesticide drift in farming communities. You can watch it here.
Health Canada, the Canadian agency in charge of pesticide regulation, made a bold move this week, announcing the phaseout of all pesticide and fertilizer combination products by December 2012. The Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) said that the decision comes because “fertilizer-pesticide combination products for lawn and turf uses do not support the goals of best practices for pest management in turf.” While more than half of Canada has already banned weed-n-feed type products, this is the first significant federal action on the issue. To avoid conflicts with the pesticide industry, the PMRA’s decision focuses on turf care practices, rather than environmental or health concerns about pesticides. It does, however, articulate important principles on pesticide use, stating that: “Pesticides should only be used when and where there is a need.” It also cautions against broadcast application of pesticides and advocates for well-timed spot treatment instead. In the U.S., the most common herbicide found in pesticide and fertilizer combination products is dichlorophenoxyacetic acid, or 2,4-D. According to the LA Times, Americans apply approximately 27 million pounds of the chemical to their lawns and parks each year. Paul Tukey of the SafeLawns Foundation writes, “What a great step in the right direction. The vast majority of lawn and garden pesticides are applied in combination with fertilizers; this action will significantly reduce the amount of contamination to the environment.”
A new study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology (PDF) shows pesticide exposure of farmers’ spouses increased their chances of developing thyroid diseases, reports Reuters. Part of the government-conducted, multi-year Agricultural Health Study, this research focused on the health of the thyroid gland in farmers’ spouses. The thyroid is located at the base of the throat and plays an important role in regulating the body’s energy use. Researchers studied more than 16,500 women living in Iowa and North Carolina who were married to men who sought certification to use restricted pesticides in those states during the 1990s. The study found that wives of farmers in the two states who had been exposed to certain pesticides had a 12.5% incidence rate of thyroid diseases; incidence of thyroid disease in the general population ranges from 1-8%. When they looked at 44 different pesticides, the researchers found that women married to men who had ever used organochlorine insecticides — such as aldrin, DDT, and lindane — were 1.2 times more likely to have hypothyroidism (i.e., an under-active thyroid). The risk of hypothyroidism for women exposed to fungicides was 1.4-fold greater. Fungicides benomyl and maneb/mancozeb were associated with tripled and doubled risk, respectively, and the herbicide paraquat nearly doubled the likelihood of hypothyroidism. Maneb/mancozeb was the only chemical studied that upped the risk of both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism.
“With each passing day we see yet another well-designed study linking pesticide exposure with chronic disease,” notes PAN’s international campaign coordinator, Dr. Medha Chandra. “This study fits squarely within that larger trend: its results shore up the case for environmental causes of diseases like cancer, Parkinson’s disease and diabetes. Of particular interest here, though, is the data source. The Agricultural Health Study focuses entirely on the health of people associated with the agricultural sector who routinely work with, or are exposed to, pesticides. By tracking a particular population in this way, researchers are able to draw deeper and more compelling epidemiological conclusions.”
Farmworkers are celebrating a major victory this week as U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis announced last Thursday that the Labor Deparment is suspending rules adopted during the last days of the Bush administration that gutted protections for agricultural guest workers. The Bush regulations, which went into effect in January 2009, lowered wages for guest workers and eliminated many protections for American workers, as well as making it easier for employers to access cheap foreign labor with little government oversight. The changes concern the H-2A Visa Program, which allows foreign agricultural workers entry into the U.S. for seasonal job assignments and protects them under federal wage laws and other standards. While Bush administration officials claimed the rules were meant to streamline the H-2A program, they actually weakened requirements that U.S. workers be hired before guest workers. Changes will go into effect in June 2010 and will last for nine months while the Labor Department draws up new labor regulations for the guest worker program. Farmworker groups are taking Solis’ announcement as an indication of the Labor Department’s readiness to focus on improving conditions for workers. Margaret Reeves, senior scientist at Pesticide Action Network, said: “This is a great victory for U.S. farmworkers that reverses many radical anti-worker policies of the Bush administration and promises improvements in a range of issues including wages, housing, and transportation.”
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