By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now
After reading today’s news about yet another study linking pesticides to yet another health issue, in this case ADHD, I thought maybe this time, we’ll pay attention to this dark undercurrent in modern life.
Perhaps now, with 3-7 percent of kids affected by ADHD, and the disorder possibly triggered by pesticide exposure, we’ll finally see that it really is something in the water — and the food — that’s causing this crisis.
Unlike cotton, these man-made chemicals should not be the fabric of our lives, and yet they seem to have networked their way into and onto everything from bug sprays to lawn treatments to the berries, veggies and meat we eat. (Think livestock’s not got pesticides in it? Animals get a dose the same way we do — from the plants they’re fed.) Even cotton gets doused with pesticides, unless it’s grown organically. The t-shirt you’re wearing may have been washed free of the chemicals used to grow the cotton. But then, where did all that malathion go? Into the soil and the water.
With our ever-growing population and its expanding consumer needs, all taking place on a finite piece of real estate called earth, it would stand to reason that our per person chemical exposure could be increasing, like ADHD has been increasing.
Tests by watchdog groups indicate it has been. The Environmental Working Group found that there were 287 chemicals present in the blood of 10 people they tested. In fact, these “10 Americans”, as the EWG titled its study, were among the most vulnerable and least culpable. They hadn’t engaged in any risky behavior nor did they work in a chemical industry. They couldn’t have — they were tested at birth.
(If you’re interested in this topic at all, settle in for talk by EWG founder, which I’ve embedded below.)
Pesticides are a distinct component of this chemical brew. The breakdown of the findings showed that the chemicals could be traced back to consumer products, industrial chemicals and byproducts, including more than 200 chemical and pesticides that had been banned more than 30 years ago, according to EWG.
That’s right. Those chemicals tend to hang around, albeit in small amounts, in the water and the soil.
So EWG’s point is that try as we might — washing our food off, staying away from household pesticides, cleaning up dust — we may not be able to avoid chemical exposure. We live in a polluted world.
And this accumulation has had real health effects. In his presentation, Cook points to the rise in lymphocytic leukemia, which has increased by 84 percent between 1975 and 2002, and the rise in brain cancer and autism among children.
ADHD doesn’t steal lives like some of those dreaded diseases, but it’s prevalence is shockingly high.
EPA records show that the use of organophosphate insecticides actually declined in real numbers, from more than 130 million pounds of “active ingredients” produced a year in 1980 to about 73 million pounds in 2001. (The numbers were taken from Crop Science America, an association representing pesticide makers.)
But the EPA report doesn’t address the bio-accumulation of these products being applied to crops year after year. Nor has the EPA historically taken an aggressive protective stance toward these chemicals, which also turn up in household products. An EPA chart list the top ten organophosphate pesticides in use at the time: Malathion, chlorpyrifos, terbufos, diazinon, methyl-parathion, phorate, acephate, phosmet, azinphos-methyl, and dimethoate.
I don’t know about you, but I recognize some of these. Malathion as the stuff that governments often turn to for mosquito control, even though there are effective non-toxic ways to kill mosquito larvae. (And with West Nile in the offering, communities often demand a good spray over of chemicals.)
Others from this group, like diazinon, are are used in industrial produce-growing operations. I never use these home products (my grass is green and I’m not worried about what the dogs are getting into). But I do sometimes read the labels and shudder. One I read recently advised that the handler wear goggles and gloves and change clothes and shower afterward. And I need to use this product, why?
The answers to this pervasive problem of chemical exposure? There are two, and neither are completely easy. First, try to minimize your exposure. Wash those veggies well. Buy organic. Eat the meat (if you eat meat) of grass-fed livestock. Don’t let your pets run around on a chemically treated lawn (and then cuddle up with junior). Better yet, don’t chemically treat your lawn. Put the bug spray down. Try natural mosquito repellents and for camping adventures, use the harsh stuff on clothing instead of skin.
Second, support the proposed Safe Chemicals Act of 2010, which would reform the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA), a law that advocates say has been virtually toothless since inception. (People are already saying this law could get lost amid the higher profile politics of energy and financial bills. So really, send word of your support, if you do support it)
Under the old law, TSCA, most chemicals submitted for approval are considered safe until shown to be dangerous. The new bill would flip that paradigm, requiring chemical makers to show a compound is safe before it is approved.
The “Safe Chemicals Act of 2010” would require safety testing of all industrial chemicals, and “puts the burden on industry to prove that chemicals are safe in order stay on the market,” according to a press released from Sen. Frank Lautenberg, (D-N.J.) author of the proposal.
“Under current policy, the EPA can only call for safety testing after evidence surfaces demonstrating a chemical is dangerous. As a result, EPA has been able to require testing for just 200 of the more than 80,000 chemicals currently registered in the United States and has been able to ban only five dangerous substances,” Lautenberg’s office reports.
The new legislation will give EPA more power to regulate both chemicals in production and those proposed for market.
Congressmen Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) have co-authored a House version of the bill.
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