Deadly Pesticide Circle Of Poison
Every year about 100-150 million pounds of pesticides that cannot be used in the United States are exported for use in other countries. These pesticides have been banned or not registered for use in this country because they may cause adverse effects on human and animal health or for their level of destructiveness to the environment.
These chemicals continue to be manufactured in pesticide plants in the United States, where factory workers and residents of the surrounding communities are exposed to them.
Then, the pesticides are shipped overseas where farmworkers are exposed to them when they are applied to crops. Runoff from the fields results in contaminated water supplies, drift from spraying pollutes the air, and farmworkers bring home pesticides clinging to their clothes. Animals eat the grain and grass that has been sprayed, then the people of the country eat the livestock and the sprayed produce and grain.
Finally, food treated with these chemicals that are not approved for use by the EPA is then imported back into the United States to be sold at grocery stores nationwide.
This trail of dangerous pesticides is called the "Circle of Poison."
Who is most at risk?
* Children, who are particularly susceptible to the ill health effects of pesticides, are exposed to particularly dangerous chemicals through this circle. Children are at greater risk for exposure to pesticides, not only because they eat a lot more fruits and vegetables than adults per pound of body weight, but also because of their biological sensitivity -- all of their major organ systems are still developing. A child's developing body is often highly susceptible to damage by the chemicals in pesticides.
Infants are exposed to pesticides in breast milk and in the water that is mixed with infant formula at a time in their lives when this is all that they consume and their bodies are changing rapidly. The National Academy of Sciences found that children are at risk from even the pesticides that the government considers "safe" and are legal in this country. Exposure to "dangerous" (unregistered) pesticides puts infants and children at an even higher risk.
* Manufacturing and transport workers and field applicators are at serious risk from exposures to these pesticides that are unregistered for use in the U.S. Whether making the initial product, transporting it over thousands of miles from the manufacturing plant, or mixing the pesticides into usable formulations (often by hand), workers can be exposed to high levels of the toxic pesticides. Because of a loophole in the law regulating pesticide exports which does not require "for export only" pesticides to be fully tested before they are made and exported, workers often don't know just how toxic the product they are handling may be. Once overseas, the pesticides are applied by field workers, many of whom are illiterate and thus cannot read the use and warning statements on container labels. Others are not given proper training in the use and potential risks of particular pesticides. Particularly in tropical climates, protective clothing is rarely used because of the heat, not to mention the expense. As a result, approximately 25 million agricultural workers are poisoned by pesticides every year. These poisonings can result in such short-term effects as dizziness and nausea or longer-term problems such as sterility, cancer, birth defects, and even death. * As residues on imported beef, cheese, beans, carrots, pineapples, and even pickles, the U.S.'s exported pesticides come right back to haunt U.S. consumers. Sometimes these tainted foods are caught by border inspectors. More often, foods get to supermarkets unchecked. The Food and Drug Administration is in charge of testing imported fruits and vegetables for illegal residues. However, they are only able to sample 1-2% of all shipments and then only test for less than 40% of pesticides on the market. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is responsible for testing meat, eggs, and poultry. They have a policy of not testing for residues of unregistered pesticides on imported foods, even if these pesticides are U.S. made and exported. According to 1990 FDA figures, 4.3% of imported food had illegal residues versus 1.1% for domestic foods. Since so little food is tested for so few pesticides, this is clearly only the tip of the iceberg. * The environment is another casualty of the United States' pesticide export policy. The air, rivers, and oceans are the dumping grounds for both production waste and run-off. Wastes from "for export only" production of pesticides are discharged into the air and waterways, which serve as drinking water sources for millions of people as well as important areas for fishing. Unregistered pesticides have made their way into the food chain, poisoning wildlife and humans. Recently, Florida scientists have detected chemicals in the coral reefs off the Florida coast that are suspected to be from Africa and Latin America, borne to this country on ocean and air currents.
What can be done to break the Circle of Poison?
Environmental, consumer, health, women's, civil rights, and pesticide reform organizations across the country are committed to breaking the Circle of Poison. Any solution must:
* Prohibit the export of pesticides that are not registered for domestic use or do not have a food tolerance; are not registered for food use and would be exported for use on food; or have had the majority of registrations (by volume) cancelled. Temporary exemptions would be permitted for emergencies such as famine or communicable disease. * Permit governments of importing countries to refuse the import of particularly hazardous pesticides. Import refusals must be based on health and environmental concerns, not trade barriers. * Automatically revoke tolerances for pesticide residues on food for pesticides no longer registered in the United States.
What can you do?
* Buy food grown in this country; * Ask your grocer to sell organic produce and label the country of origin of all produce stocked; * Urge policy-makers to support proposals to break the circle of poison; * Join a local organization fighting to reform the way pesticides are regulated in this country; * Call the National Campaign for Pesticide Policy Reform (202-955-3810) for more information.
Fact sheet produced September 1994 by the National Campaign for Pesticide Policy Reform, Washington DC, 202-955-3810. Information provided by Greenpeace.

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