|Protect your Children's Grandchildren by Avoiding Pesticides|
Experts warn that when fetuses and newborns encounter various toxic substances, growth of critical organs and functions can be skewed. In a process called “fetal programming,” the children then are susceptible to diseases later in life – and perhaps could even pass on those altered traits to their children and grandchildren.
As Rachel Carson noted 35 years ago in a passage that could have been written today:
"The choice, after all, is ours to make. If, after having endured so much, we have at least asserted our ‘right to know,’ and knowing, we have concluded that we are being asked to take senseless and frightening risks, then we should no longer accept the counsel of those who tell us that we must fill our world with poisonous chemicals; we should look about and see what other courses are open to us." (Silent Spring, 1962).
Ten years ago a consumer revolt against alar, a carcinogenic ripening agent used on apples, resulted in a government ban on the chemical largely due to concerns about its possible effects on children. According to the Environmental Working Group, a, highly respected, Washington D.C.-based environmental organization, "Nothing’s changed. Children’s foods are just as contaminated with unsafe levels of pesticides,The government knows this, and is dragging its heels, protecting chemicals instead of kids."
Here are the facts, based on the government’s own data about what kids eat and the levels of pesticides they are exposed to in their food:
More than ¼ million children aged 1 through 5 consume as many as 20 different pesticides daily. More than one million preschool children eat about 15 pesticides on any given day, and 20 million take in eight pesticides daily;
Some 610,000 preschool children consume levels of pesticides that the government considers unsafe, putting them at long-term risk for nerve damage, reproductive system failure, birth defects, and other chronic health problems;
Preschoolers are more heavily exposed to pesticides than adults because they eat more of certain foods that are sources of pesticides: 30 times more apple juice, 21 times more grape juice, 7 times more orange juice;
Government tests show that raspberries, strawberries, apples and peaches grown in the United States and cantaloupe from Mexico are the foods most contaminated with pesticides;
The least contaminated fruit are watermelon, bananas, kiwi, pineapple, and domestic cantaloupe, but organic food, grown without the use of chemicals, is the safest choice of all;
Young children pick up pesticides not only in their food but also playing on the ground and the floor—increasing their risks;
The special needs of children for protection from pesticide exposure was recognized in the passage of the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) of 1996. The FQPA changed the standard by which the EPA determines pesticide tolerances (the highest amounts of residues allowed in food). The most important changes were new requirements for the protection of infants and children from pesticide damage to their developing neurological and reproductive systems.
"The FQPA was a good law, but the EPA's determination to enforce the law has withered under industry pressure," says Todd Helterbach, of the Environmental Working Group (EWG). A report published by the EWG on pesticide abuse called "Attack of the Killer Weeds,’ also states "the EPA has yet to implement the full children’s health requirements of FQPA for even one of the approximately 300 pesticides that are used in more than 20,000 products."
Even worse, use of a provision in the law, which allows EPA to grant an "emergency" exemption from pesticide health and safety standards, has doubled between 1993 and 1998. The EWG calls this "little more than a loophole through which pesticide companies market their products while avoiding the children’s health and safety requirements of the law."
Until the government does a better job of protecting children, here are some things you can do to reduce your child’s pesticide exposure:
Buy organic foods whenever possible
Don’t let your kids play on lawns treated with pesticides;
Remove shoes, Japanese style, in your home. Pesticide residues cling to shoes and are transferred to your carpet where kids and pets play.
Keep any pesticides used in or around your home in a safe place, or better yet, switch to nonchemical ways to handle household pests.
Even the staid Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, has called for a ban on risky pesticides that are unsafe for children, whether used on food, in homes, at schools, or in other places where children are likely to be exposed.
In a strongly worded declaration, many of the world’s leading environmental scientists warned that exposure to common chemicals makes babies more likely to develop an array of health problems later in life, including diabetes, attention deficit disorders, prostate cancer, fertility problems, thyroid disorders and even obesity.
The declaration by about 200 scientists from five continents amounts to a vote of confidence in a growing body of evidence that humans are vulnerable to long-term harm from toxic exposures in the womb and during their first years.
Convening in the Faroe Islands in the North Atlantic, toxicologists, pediatricians, epidemiologists and other experts warned that when fetuses and newborns encounter various toxic substances, growth of critical organs and functions can be skewed. In a process called “fetal programming,” the children then are susceptible to diseases later in life – and perhaps could even pass on those altered traits to their children and grandchildren.
The scientists’ statement also contained a rare international call to action. The effort was led by Dr. Philippe Grandjean of Harvard University and the University of Southern Denmark, and Dr. Pal Weihe of the Faroese Hospital System, who have spent more than 20 years studying children exposed to mercury.
Many governmental agencies and industry groups, particularly in the United States, have said there is no or little human evidence to support concerns about most toxic residue in air, water, food and consumer products. About 80,000 chemicals are registered in the United States.
Yet the scientists urged leaders not to wait for more scientific certainty and recommended that governments revise regulations and procedures to take into account subtle effects on fetal and infant development.
Chemicals with evidence of developmental effects include compounds in plastics, cosmetics and pesticides.
“Given the ubiquitous exposure to many environmental toxicants, there needs to be renewed efforts to prevent harm. Such prevention should not await detailed evidence on individual hazards,” the scientists wrote in the four-page statement.
The scientists are particularly concerned that the newest animal research suggests that chemicals can alter gene expression – turning on or off genes that predispose people to disease. Although the DNA itself would not be altered, such genetic misfires in the womb may be permanent, and all subsequent generations could be at greater risk of diseases too.
“Toxic exposures to chemical pollutants during these windows of increased susceptibility can cause disease and disability in childhood and across the entire span of human life,” the scientists concluded.
“A sad aspect with many of these prenatal exposures is that they leave the mother unscathed while causing injury to her fetus,” said Dr. Philip Landrigan, a pediatrician who chairs the Mount Sinai School of Medicine’s Department of Community and Preventive Medicine. He was one of the statement’s authors.
In a more optimistic vein, the researchers said that if contaminants do play a big role in human health problems, some diseases could be prevented.
“Reducing exposure would lead to tremendous benefits,” said Dr. Bruce Lanphear, director of the Environmental Health Center at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. “We shouldn’t wait for an epidemic to fully mature before we develop policies to protect children.”
For centuries, the basic rule of toxicology has been “the dose makes the poison.” Now, the scientists say “the timing makes the poison” – in other words, when a toxic exposure occurs is as important as the amount people are exposed to.
Also, children exposed to lead, organophosphate pesticides or cigarette smoke have greater risk of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. One of every three cases – or an estimated 560,000 children in the United States – can be attributed to lead exposure or prenatal tobacco smoke exposure, Lanphear reported in a study.The conference was funded by the World Health Organization, National Institutes of Health, European Environment Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Denmark’s Faroe Islands, just south of the Arctic Circle, were the venue because the region is home to the longest-running human experiment analyzing prenatal toxic exposure. Since 1986, Grandjean and Weihe have tracked Faroese children from the womb to adolescence to monitor neurological effects of mercury in seafood. Their findings prompted U.S. advisories that children and women of childbearing age avoid swordfish and other highly contaminated fish.
In addition to Landrigan, three Californians and six other U.S. scientists served on the 28-member committee that wrote the consensus: Brenda Eskenazi of UC Berkeley, Irva Hertz-Picciotto of UC Davis, Beate Ritz of UCLA, Jerry Heindel and Kimberly Gray of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Larry Needham of the CDC, Terry Huang of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, David Bellinger of Harvard University and Howard Hu of the University of Michigan.
CONSUMERS UNION REPORT: PESTICIDE RESIDUES STILL TOO HIGH IN CHILDREN'S FOODS Chlorpyrifos Among Pesticides Causing Excessive Residues - EPA Needs To Act But Parents Can Feed Their Children A Healthy Diet - If They Choose Wisely
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