Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)
A Weekly News Update on Pesticides, Health and Alternatives
See PANUPS archive for complete information.
- Roundup ‘inert’ ingredient kills human cells
- Monsanto Roundup Ready alfalfa ban upheld
- Children susceptible to organophosphates longer than expected
- DDT cover-up hearings in Los Angeles
- ‘A Healing Garden Grows in Bhopal’
- Europe proposes ban of highly hazardous biocides
“Used in yards, farms and parks throughout the world, Roundup has long been a top-selling weed killer. But now researchers have found that one of Roundup’s inert ingredients can kill human cells, particularly embryonic, placental and umbilical cord cells,” writes Crystal Gammon in the July 22 issue of Environmental Health News. Pesticide researchers and activists from the U.S. to Argentina, Japan and Croatia have been calling for public access to, and warnings about, “inerts” (almost 4,000 solvents, surfactants and other chemicals included in pesticides, approved by the U.S. EPA, yet not specified on warning labels because they are not the “active” ingredient aimed at pest control). “Glyphosate, Roundup’s active ingredient, is the most widely used herbicide in the United States. About 100 million pounds are applied to U.S. farms and lawns every year,” Gammon reports. “Until now, most health studies have focused on the safety of glyphosate [alone], rather than the mixture of ingredients found in Roundup.” In a study from the University of Caen in France, first published in January, “scientists found that Roundup’s inert ingredients amplified the toxic effect on human cells — even at concentrations much more diluted than those used on farms and lawns.” Their focus was on POEA — polyethoxylated tallow amine — an “inert” detergent in Roundup that they were astonished to discover was far more dangerous than the herbicide itself. “’The proprietary mixtures available on the market could cause cell damage and even death [at the] residual levels’
found on Roundup-treated crops, such as soybeans, alfalfa and corn, or lawns and gardens.” These latest findings are no surprise to Caroline Cox of Oakland’s Center for Environmental Health. She wrote of the dangers of inerts, including POEA, for years while at the Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides in Eugene, OR. Monsanto claims the recent study is flawed; Gilles-Eric Seralini, the molecular biologist that headed the French study, says standard toxicological methods were used. Cox points out that competitors can discover what is in formulations like Roundup with routine lab analysis. “The proprietary protection laws [for inerts] really only keep information from the public,” she said.
On June 24, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit “re-affirmed its previous decision upholding a nationwide ban on the planting of genetically-engineered (GE) Roundup Ready alfalfa pending full [a] Environmental Impact Statement,” announced the Center for Food Safety, who led a group of plaintiffs in a two-year legal battle. “The Court determined that the planting of genetically modified alfalfa can result in potentially irreversible harm to organic and conventional varieties of crops, damage to the environment, and economic harm to farmers.” The suit, which won a decision by District Court Judge Charles Breyer in May 2007 to halt field experiments with GE alfalfa, was originally brought against the USDA. Monsanto and its partner, Forage Genetics, joined as “Defendant-Intervenors”. Though the 2007 ruling was upheld in September 2008, the Intervenors persisted in appeal. The June 24 Geertson v. Monsanto (PDF) ruling declares: “No further petitions for rehearing will be accepted.” The Center for Food Safety was representing Geertson Seed Farms, Trask Family Seeds, Beyond Pesticides, Cornucopia Institute, Dakota Resource Council, National Family Farm Coalition, Sierra Club, and Western Organization of Resource Councils.
“Although it is known that infants are more susceptible than adults to the toxic effects of pesticides, this increased vulnerability may extend much longer into childhood than expected, according to a new study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley,” published this month in Environmental Health Perspectives. “Current EPA standards of exposure for some pesticides assume children are 3 to 5 times more susceptible than adults,” said Nina Holland, UC Berkeley adjunct professor of environmental health sciences and senior author of the paper. “Our study is the first to show quantitatively that young children may be more susceptible to certain organophosphate pesticides up to age 7.” Depending on a child’s genotype, the levels of a particular enzyme which can break down toxins — particularly organophosphates, including chlorpyrifos and diazinon — may be as little as one-third that of an adult mother at birth, and the level may remain low until 7 years of age. Chlorpyrifos was banned for residential use in 2001 due to risks to children, but is still used in agriculture where farmworker and rural children are exposed. According to PAN senior scientist Margaret Reeves, “Even before these results were known, EPA scientists argued that organophosphate pesticides — posing serious threats to children’s neurological development — were too toxic to be used; we need to ban them, starting with chlorpyrifos.”
On July 23, the first of several public hearings was held in Los Angeles on an EPA plan to cap the huge, decades-old deposit of DDT on the ocean floor off Southern California. “We finally had enough data that we feel we are ready to make a decision,” said EPA’s Carmen White. On July 12, the agency “proposed spending at least $36 million to clean up the world’s largest deposit of banned pesticide DDT, which lies 200 feet underwater off the Palos Verdes Peninsula, reports the Los Angeles Times. “Montrose Chemical Corp., which was based near Torrance, released 110 tons of DDT and 10 tons of toxic PCBs into the sewers from 1947 through 1971. The chemicals then flowed into the Pacific.” The plan is to place a cover of sand and silt over the most heavily contaminated part of a 17-square-mile area which was declared a Superfund site in 1996. While capping won’t clean up the chemicals, it may reduce health risks for people who eat fish caught in the area. EPA conducted a pilot project in 2000 covering 320 acres of the most contaminated area, with limited success, as the pollutants emerged on top in some sections. There are few options, the agency contends: dredging is estimated to cost $2 billion, would contaminate the water and pose its own disposal problem. “”I think it’s a huge development,” said Mark Gold, executive director of Heal the Bay (Santa Monica). “We have the worst DDT hotspot in the entire U.S.'” Still, Gold said, the cover-up seems the only viable option: “[it] ‘isn’t a solution. It’s just a risk reduction for public health and the environment.”
A new video tells the inspiring story of Sambhavna Clinic, a non-profit holistic health center in Bhopal, India, built to treat those injured by the explosion of the Union Carbide pesticide plant in 1984. While this worst industrial accident in history killed thousands of people outright, some 23,000 more have suffered since. The clinic treats first-and second-generation Bhopal residents who suffer effects of the chemical spill and the continuing poisons that leak from the factory site, now owned by Dow Chemical. The 10-minute video, “A Healing Garden Grows in Bhopal,” was produced by Health Care Without Harm — an international campaign for environmentally responsible health care — as part of a drive to support the free healing services of Sambhavna Clinic. The film also draws attention to the fact that 25 years after the toxic gas destroyed so many lives, thousands of Bhopal residents have yet to gain access to clean drinking water, and Dow Chemical claims it has no liability or responsibility for the continuing tragedy. Last year the campaign to bring justice to Bhopal won an Indian government commitment to address the issues, but so far there are more promises than action.
On June 12 the European Commission published a draft revision (PDF) of its ten-year-old “Biocidal Products Directive” which regulates some 50,000 products such as moth insecticides, anti-fouling paint used on ships’ hulls, disinfectants and wood preservatives. The Commission intends to ban the use of biocides which are carcinogenic, reproduction hazards or mutagenic, or influence the endocrine system. It calls for labeling articles and materials treated with such biocides, including textiles with antibacterial additives or carpets treated to prevent moth damage, in order to protect consumers against hazardous substances prohibited within the EU but still used abroad. Pesticide Action Network Germany welcomes the EC directive because it “strengthens consumer protection and increases transparency. However, the draft is in urgent need of improvements,” says Susanne Smolka, PAN Germany’s biocides specialist. “For example, exclusion criteria for particularly hazardous environmental properties are urgently needed.” Examples of biocidal products released directly into the environment are increasingly common building facade protections against fungi and algae. Studies prove that significant quantities of environmentally harmful substances are washed out of the facades during rain.
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