Living in the 21st century many average people are becoming more aware of our environment and the impact that industry has on the health of all life on the planet, awareness has been growing on issues of climate and industrial air pollution but little is understood by the average citizen relating to pesticide harm on the environment.
Chemical poisoning has become a modern day epidemic with toxic substance exposure almost impossible to avoid, pesticides and environmental toxins have been recorded from the top of MT Everest to the Antarctic, we find pesticides in new born infants and they are even been reported to be passed on at the time of conception
The impact of pesticides on the general public is very high and largely unknown by most, the areas where we traditionally consider exposure a risk are mainly through diet or those working in the agricultural industry, but pesticides are very prevalent in places we just would not expect, a good example of this is that most pesticide poisoning of infants in the US actually come from organophosphate type substances found in carpets and toys. Bradman 2005
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates 25 million agricultural workers will suffer an pesticide poisoning every year, with results from the 2008 US agricultural study estimating 16% of the 89, 658 agricultural pesticide workers studied would have at least one poisoning in their lifetime, if we carry those figures to NZ we would expect 16% of our agricultural workers to experience the same as we have similar safety standards and laws as the USA.
In 2016 there are 55,473 farm holdings in NZ, assuming one person gets exposed to pesticides on each farm 16% of them would experience an acute poisoning experience, that would be 8875 farmers poisoned at least once in their working life, if we then account for all other pesticide using industries such as horticulture and fumigation industries the numbers of people likely to be poisoned is alarming.
In NZ between 2006 and 2012 more than 100 children aged under 5 were hospitalized as a result of exposure to pesticides with ACC figures during this time showing 376 claims in one year for injuries to young children due to exposure to toxic substances (consumer.org2012)
Organophosphate insecticide(OP) was designed as nerve gas and was developed 1930-40 for the purpose of killing people, and it was originally used in forms such as sarin gas then remarketed as an insecticide after WW2 ended.
Organophosphates have been identified in a Meta review done over 71 countries of all known research and has concluded that very low levels of exposure during pregnancy put children and fetuses at risk for developmental problems that may last a lifetime.
Bruce Lanphear a co-author of a recent paper on children’s health and OP compounds says “we have found no evidence of a safe level of OP pesticide exposure for children. Well before birth, OP pesticides are disrupting the brain in its earliest stages, putting them on track for difficulties in learning, memory and attention. Government officials need to listen to science not chemical lobbyists”
The Stockholm convention has also identified this class of pesticide as needing a total worldwide ban.
The USA has banned 26 out of the 40 organophosphate insecticides and Europe has banned 33 out of 39, this class of pesticide needs an complete worldwide ban but NZ happily uses many of the substances banned overseas on our food crops today, such as diazinon, dimethoate and methamidophos all banned organophosphate compounds in the USA, chlorpyrifos another OP insecticide used in NZ has shown to be an potent developmental neurotoxin at low levels of exposure and has been found in breastmilk and even placental blood, it has also been shown to cause breast cancer cells to grow
Pesticides have an bad reputation for causing reproductive damage in humans and animals, not only the older substances which after years of science claiming safe were banned such as organochlorines pcb’s ddt agent orange 245t but also current pesticides such as organophosphates, carbamates, pyrethroid’s, organo fluorine’s, herbicides, fungicides and fumigants, recent studies have shown many environmental toxins produce reproductive problems and have been shown to effect 4 generations in some animal studies, OP insecticides even in very low doses have been shown to affect the physiology of reproduction in higher vertebrates which includes humans and also have been shown to cause reproductive syndromes and DNA methylation which can change function and gene expression in humans.
In 2007 Over 2000 international scientists called for the governments of the world to follow the precautionary approach to chemical toxins cautioning that serious disease may ensue later in life which could also affect the children and grandchildren of exposed victims
The amount of pesticide used in NZ per year is not currently known as the government does not require industry to report however the global pesticide usage per year is estimated at 5.6 billion pounds or 2.54 billion kilo’s 1998-99 US EPA
Many environmental toxins and pesticides will bio accumulate (build up and persist in the environment long term), the PCB substances banned in the 1990’s are still being leeched into the oceans today and have been identified as harming the worlds orca populations and are posing a risk to the species survival, the world’s highest levels of these eco toxic chemicals are found here in the south pacific oceans.
This bio accumulation results in long term soil damage and lower insect and bacteria levels in the soil structure and is not sustainable in the long term, we are slowly degrading soil health with traditional horticultural practices not only through pesticides but also overuse of chemical fertilizers both of these substantially contribute to regular toxic algal blooms seen in NZ and throughout the world.
The ministry for the environment has stated there are 8000 toxic sites in NZ which are deemed to be a threat to health and have further identified 1500 of these as being of serious threat, yet efforts to decontaminate these sites have been slow and funding announced keeps being pushed back, meanwhile the list grows along with the environmental harm and risk to public health, many of these sites are contaminated with highly toxic heavy metals and dioxins or arsenic type substances, we need to learn the hard lessons of yesterday and stop repeating them in the vague hope that this time it will be different.
Dr Meriel watts from the NZ pesticide action network is a home grown scientific expert on both pesticides and non-chemical alternatives to them and has been battling hard to wake up kiwi’s to the pesticide problem, she states pesticides and environmental toxins are one of the biggest problems facing the human race today, she has successfully campaigned for the international removal of endosulfan through the Stockholm agreement, which was causing serious birth defects in the next generation of children born to exposed victims, she was also a strong lobbying influence for the removal of OP insecticides from our garden stores and farms in NZ and has sat on or advised most Government pesticides boards, one cannot write an NZ pesticides article without referring to Meriel and her decades of battling and lobbying, she is likely to be responsible for hundreds of thousands of people avoiding life changing exposure and living with horrible physical deformities.
An US Agriculture Health Study carried out in 2008 of occupationally exposed pesticide operators and non-occupationally exposed spouses with a study population of 89,658 participants showed that 12 of the 30 pesticides tested which are widely used worldwide, increased risk of cancer, significant associations were observed for prostate, lung, bladder, pancreas and colon cancer as well as for, leukemia and multiple myeloma.
The pesticides looked at were a range of commonly used insecticides, herbicides and fumigants and interestingly all had previously been tested as non-cancer causing and are still classed as such today under the current testing standards
The World Health Organization has questioned the current methods used by the EPA for declaring pesticides non carcinogens, currently there are only two pesticides considered human carcinogens, those containing arsenic or dioxin.
many other pesticides are strongly suspected including the 12 identified in this study, the NZ EPA have classified 1080 as a non-carcinogen without ever carrying out tests and this is one of the Areas of concern the WHO have identified.
Pesticide levels in our food is a topic that gets very little attention in this country, the organics movement though constantly growing is small and features little in mainstream supermarkets, the majority of Kiwi’s are consuming many pesticides in their daily diet, with levels of insecticide herbicide and fungicides testing positive in most foods we consume, many people are not aware that pesticide such as the highly neurotoxic OP’s are also found in products like bread, milk, meat and most processed foods, almost all fresh produce and every by product of them for example pasta made from wheat will still often test positive for pesticides from the toxic residue’s found in the wheat used.
These toxic residues can and do produce long term illness, a coworker in the workplace that I received my chronic OP exposure from was poisoned from contact with chemical residue only and her job did not require any spraying, it is common for pesticide residue to stay toxic for many weeks and if regular exposure take place illness will ensue, she was excepted onto ACC and was diagnosed with a gradual processes disease from chemical residue exposure, and still suffers much ill health 20+ years later, this diagnoses from occupational science shows that all of society should show caution with toxic residue currently found on most food crops today.
quantitative scientists tell us any chemical residues are totally safe if under the government approved levels, despite their own research showing many pesticides bio accumulate(slowly build up) in the human body and environment.
Qualitative science studies based on epidemiological data gathered from studying exposed populations and comparing results with average population show the chances of contracting many serious disease’s by people working with and around these toxic substances greatly increase.
When considering exposure through diet the cancer rates and rates of neurological diseases and dementia type illness that have all been increasing since industrialization, should be evidence enough of harm, due to the fact these types of disorders have been strongly linked with pesticide exposures and environmental toxins in many epidemiological studies.
We see the same thing often in the pharmaceutical industry where traditional qualitative science says a drug is safe then like thalidomide is later found through epidemiological study to be causing major birth defects, this is one example which got a lot of media attention but these types of studies have helped identify hundreds if not thousands of prescription drugs which needed to be removed from society.
Pesticides have been shown through these epidemiological studies to significantly increase chances of many chronic diseases and neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, motor neuron, Alzheimer’s, als, diabetes, cancers, birth defects and reproductive disease and also have been linked with respiratory illness such as asthma, pulmonary disease and cardiovascular disease such as atherosclerosis and coronary artery disease, chronic nephropathies, auto immune diseases like lupus, arthritis and chronic fatigue syndrome.
When science tests these chemicals they look for minimum levels of exposure that produce noticeable effect, this procedure will never show up disease which can occur post exposure and many peripheral neuropathies and poly neuropathies and cancers have a delayed onset, so the levels of exposure required to initiate these illnesses are scientifically unknown, there for a precautionary approach to all use in society should be taken to protect human health.