- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
yesterday released its Third National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental
Chemicals, finding that more than 90% of U.S. residents carry a mixture
of pesticides in their bodies. Many of these chemicals are linked to health
effects such as cancer, birth defects and neurological problems. Children,
who are particularly vulnerable to the effects of pesticide exposure, had
higher levels of some pesticides in their bodies than adults.
- CDC sampled the blood and urine of thousands of subjects
across the country for 148 chemicals, 43 of them pesticides. This sample
represents just over 3% of the 1,284 pesticide active ingredients currently
registered in the U.S. that are formulated into tens of thousands of pesticide
products for agricultural and home use.
- Pyrethroids were included for the first time in this
study, and CDC found one pyrethroid metabolite to be particularly widespread
in the population, occurring in more than 75% of the subjects tested. Pyrethroids
are insecticides widely used in agriculture, in home and garden pest products,
and for lice control. They are a synthetic version of pyrethrins, a naturally
occurring insecticide extracted from chrysanthemums. Unlike pyrethrins,
which break down in the environment within hours, synthetic pyrethroids
can last from days to months, creating a much greater risk of exposure.
- The health effects of pyrethroids are well documented.
Exposure can produce neurotoxic effects, vomiting, diarrhea and a tingling
sensation on the skin (paresthesias). Pyrethroids are also suspected endocrine
disruptors and possible carcinogens, and as a group are the second most
common cause of pesticide poisoning reported to U.S. poison control centers.
- Some pesticides were found in the CDC study at higher
levels in children than adults. For example, the organophosphate pesticide
chlorpyrifos was found at higher concentrations in children, indicating
exposures more than four times the level EPA considers "safe."
Home use of chlorpyrifos was banned in 2001 because of concern over health
effects in children, but an estimated 10 million pounds continues to be
used in agricultural fields every year. In the 2001/2002 period covered
by this report chlorpyrifos was found in more than 75% of the population.
- The organochlorine pesticides aldrin, dieldrin and endrin,
banned in the U.S. for decades, were included in CDC's study for the first
time and were detected in very low or un-measurable amounts. CDC also sampled
for breakdown products of the organochlorine pesticide lindane, found in
nearly half of the subjects tested. Unfortunately CDC did not test for
other organochlorines that continue to be used in the U.S., such as endosulfan
and dicofol. Organochlorines are known to persist in the environment, build
up in people's bodies, and are passed from mother to child in the womb
and through breastfeeding.
- A body burden study released last week by the Environmental
Working Group (EWG) reported findings similar to the CDC study, focusing
specifically on chemical exposures infants received before they were born.
EWG tested fetal cord blood of 10 healthy infants born at various locations
around the U.S. in 2004, revealing exposures to a total of 287 chemicals.
Among the most pervasive pesticides found in newborns were hexachlorobenzene,
dieldrin and DDT (and its contaminants and byproducts).
- PANNA issued a set of recommendations based on findings
from the CDC study. These include:
- - Corporations like Bayer CropScience that continue to
distribute organochlorine pesticide products should withdraw them immediately
from the U.S. market.
- - Policymakers should use CDC's biomonitoring data to
help develop policies that better protect public health, and particularly
- - CDC should make more detailed data (such as location
and timing of sampling and occupational information) publicly available
to help policymakers set priorities and evaluate impacts of state-level
policies already in place, such as California's ban of lindane for pharmaceutical
- - Consumers should choose organic food and pesticide-free
household and hygiene products to protect their families and support markets
for healthy alternatives.
- CDC's biomonitoring program is the largest in the U.S.
and provides invaluable information on chemical exposures nationwide. The
agency announced plans to expand the list of studied chemicals to more
than 300 in the next study, to be released in 2007. This year's report
provides important insights into the widespread nature of pesticide exposure
in the U.S. and highlights the need to shift to less toxic approaches to
- See CDC Releases 3rd National Report on the PANNA website,
- Sources: CDC National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental
Chemicals,http://ga4.org/ct/511DIYM1SR46//; Body Burden, The Pollution
in Newborns, Environmental Working Group, http://ga4.org/ct/5d1DIYM1SR4O/;
Reigart, R.J., and Roberts, R.J. 1999. Recognition of Management of Pesticide
Poisonings 5th Edition. Washington DC: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
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