The Financial Impact of Bedbugs in the Hospitality Industry


By: Raymond Web

All hotel owners know that even a simple rumor can have a devastating effect on their business if it attracts the right kind of media attention, a simple accusation can instantly damage your hotel’s hard-earned reputation.

Legal experts have noticed a rising trend in bed bug litigation whereby guests sue hotels for millions of dollars, the financial impact of a bed bug lawsuit can be detrimental to your business. This does not only give your hotel a bad reputation but also makes you lose out on a lot of income. A recent example of failure to find bed bugs occurred in 2006 whereby a couple from Chicago sued a Catskills resort for about 20 million, stating that they were mentally and physically scarred after suffering from more than 500 bug bites.

Here are 8 ways how bed bugs can affect your business:

  • Lowers the Value of Accommodation

Studies indicate that a single report of bed bugs can lead to the value of your hotel room dropping significantly in both the cases of business and leisure travelers. The other detrimental effects of a bed bug infestation are that your hotel’s reputation gets tarnished, especially if the news of the infestation gets social media attention, higher operational expenses are required to treat the infestation which lowers your hotel’s operating efficiency.

A recently conducted report on the economic impact of bed bugs on the hotel industry discovered that bed bug reports or the presence of bed bugs can reduce the value of your hotel room by $21 for leisure travelers and $38 for business travelers as the presence of bed bugs is usually at the top of people’s concerns when choosing a hotel and also the main reason that drives them away.

  • Cost of Remediation and Litigation

Bed bug infestations should not be taken lightly as they tend to garner a lot of negative publicity which can tarnish your reputation and increase the losses of your business.

The total cost of bed bug infestations involves the replacement of soft products, treatment and business losses experienced. The report states that almost half of all hotels have had to undergo litigation due to bed bug infestations which can cost about $17,177 per incident and can go as high as $23,560 in terms of the remediation and litigation costs.

  • Brand Degradation and Negative Online Image

News of a bed bug infestation can tarnish your hard-earned reputation as well as creating a negative online image of your hotel and its services. Travelers tend to share their staying experiences online on various travel sites which can further damage the reputation of your establishment. This is bound to hurt your business as the majority of travelers consider online reviews before visiting certain places.

  • Lower Stakeholder Value

This can become pretty prominent if a bed bug infestation makes headlines or gets social media traction which can lead to lower stakeholder value as your business takes a hit which lowers the amount of people that visit it which in turn leads to lower hotel operating efficiency.

  • Increased Operational Expenses

Bed bug infestation can increase your establishment’s operational expenses due to negative publicity as well as the extra operational expenses that are required to treat the infestation and increase your establishment’s operating efficiency. A scenario of this can occur whereby you may find yourself with a lawsuit on your hands.

  • Cost of Replacement of Your Inventory

Bed bugs can cause some serious damage to your mattresses, sheets, towels and furniture. It is usually advised that you should replace your furniture and soft goods if a bed bug infestation gets out of control on your premises which can be pretty costly.

  • Lowers Your Customer Trust and Causes Loss of Income

Your guests will find it hard to trust your services and facilities again as they would have seen the online reports and testimonials and won’t want to take anymore chances with their health. This negative publicity can hurt your business and its income in the long-term so it is best to take the necessary preventative treatment in time.

  • Increases Medical Costs due to Allergic Reactions

Bed bugs are not usually considered dangerous but the effect of their bites can vary from small bite marks to itchy red welts to severe allergic reactions that need medical attention. Excessive scratching of the bite marks can lead to further inflammation.

The best way to avoid this is by hiring a trained and qualified workforce to regularly inspect your rooms along with timely pest control inspections. If you have a slight doubt about the presence of bed bugs in your hotel then investing in bed bug protection is the minimal cost that you should pay in comparison to what you would have to shell out if you have a full-fledged bed bug infestation. Don’t delay take bed bug precautions today!

Bedbugs found in Ryerson University classroom

By: Chris Herhalt,

Ryerson University officials say they have relocated students from a classroom after several students spotted insects believed to be bedbugs roaming its desks.

Stefanie Phillips said she was taking notes at a lecture in classroom 205 in the Victoria building, located on the east side of Victoria Street, north of Dundas Street, on Feb. 22 when she felt something strange on her hand.

“I felt an itch on my hand, so I looked down and saw this tiny reddish brown beetle-type of bug. I flicked it off and looked around for more.”

She immediately got up, moved to the other side of the class and notified the school’s facilities department when her lecture was done.

Over the next four days, she said the bites led to swelling that spread across half of her hand.

“It was extremely irritating, definitely more irritating than any other bites I’ve had before,” Phillips said.

While the swelling eventually went away, Phillips said she was concerned about the bugs moving out of the classroom.

“I was concerned that I was going to bring these bugs back to my apartment. It was going to cause me a lot of stress at that point in the semester.”

She said that she is scheduled to return to the same classroom this Thursday, but school spokesperson Johanna VanderMaas said all classes have been relocated from that classroom and “the university is currently assessing the room in question.”

She said a dog trained to sniff out bed bugs will brought to the classroom to examine the desks. After that, the classroom will be sealed off and steamed to kill the bugs.

The trained dog will then be brought in for a second time to ensure there are no more insects alive in the room.

On Tuesday, CP24 reached out to Mike Cardaci of Just Bugs, a Toronto-based pest control operator, with images of the bugs found in classroom 205.

He called them “well-fed bedbugs,” and said the insects in the images were “easily identifiable.”

Brent Smyth was in the same classroom last December when he was bit by a bug.

“I killed one that bit me. Then I put it in a plastic bag gave it to my professor, who told me he was going to turn it over to the facilities department.”

He said students who attended class in that room would openly joke about finding the bugs on a regular basis.

Smyth said students would not sit in the back six rows of desks in the classroom, which holds approximately 60 students, to avoid getting bitten or unwittingly carrying them back to their homes.

Later, Smyth said his professor told him the problem had been taken care of, and he also heard that the school conducted a “spot-check” of the classroom on Mar. 9 and couldn’t find anything.

“We found them in two minutes of searching last night.”

Justin Chandler and Jacob Dubé, news editors with the student newspaper The Eyeopener, told CP24 that they collected a number of the tiny bugs from classroom 205 on Monday night.

“After we found these, we sent images of (the bugs) to exterminators and they all sent us back messages almost immediately saying yes, these are indeed bedbugs you have here,” Dubé told CP24. “We managed to get five separate exterminating firms to confirm with us that these were bedbugs.”

Ryerson University public affairs manager Johanna VanderMaas said the school is “in the process of confirming” whether the insects found in Victoria building are bedbugs.

Toronto Public Health spokesperson Tracy Leach said the city received an anonymous complaint about bedbugs in a Ryerson University classroom.

“We conducted a follow-up on March 12th with the Facility Manager of the property to ensure their awareness and response to the matter,” Leach said in an email.

She said the city investigates complaints about bedbugs in rental residential units to see if they represent a public health hazard.

“While Toronto Public Health does not typically investigate complaints related to private residences and buildings, we may provide general advice and guidance on pest control if requested or investigate further if a health hazard is identified.”

Bedbugs feed on the blood of most mammals in order to survive. They are often found in the cracks of matresses but can also make their way into items of furniture that humans regular sit or lean on, such as a chair, couch or a desk.

They are usually no larger than 4.5 millimetres across when fully fed and can become as thin as a piece of paper.

About 1 in 10 U.S. pregnant women with confirmed Zika infection had a fetus or baby with birth defects in 2016

Embargoed Until: Tuesday, April 4, 2017; 1:00 p.m. ET
Contact: Media Relations
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Zika infection during pregnancies can cause serious birth defects in babies.

Zika infection during pregnancies can cause serious birth defects in babies. Entire Infographic


Of the 250 pregnant women who had confirmed Zika infection in 2016, 24 – or about 1 in 10 of them – had a fetus or baby with Zika-related birth defects, according to a new Vital Signs report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This report is the first to provide the analysis of a subgroup of pregnant women in the U.S. with clear, confirmed test results of Zika virus infection.

Testing for Zika remains complex because there is a narrow timeframe for obtaining a positive laboratory result, and many infected people do not have symptoms that might motivate testing. For this reason, CDC is monitoring all pregnant women with any evidence of recent Zika infection. In 2016, nearly 1,000 pregnant women from 44 states who completed their pregnancies had some evidence of a recent Zika infection and were at risk of having a fetus or baby with Zika-related birth defects. Most of these women acquired Zika infection during travel to an area where Zika was known to be present.

Zika infection during pregnancy can cause serious damage to the brain and microcephaly in developing fetuses. It also can lead to congenital Zika syndrome in babies, a pattern of birth defects that includes brain abnormalities, vision problems, hearing loss, and problems moving limbs. Babies may also appear healthy at birth but have underlying brain defects or other Zika-related health problems.

“Zika virus can be scary and potentially devastating to families. Zika continues to be a threat to pregnant women across the U.S.,” said CDC Acting Director Anne Schuchat, M.D. “With warm weather and a new mosquito season approaching, prevention is crucial to protect the health of mothers and babies. Healthcare providers can play a key role in prevention efforts.”

A pregnant woman looking out of an airport window
In 2016, pregnant women with evidence of Zika were reported in 44 states. Most became infected through travel to an area with Zika.

The findings from this report confirm the serious threat posed by Zika virus infection during pregnancy and the critical need for pregnant women to continue taking steps to prevent Zika virus exposure through mosquito bites and sexual transmission. The report also emphasizes the importance of healthcare providers screening all pregnant omen for possible Zika virus exposure and testing and evaluating all infants born to women with evidence of Zika infection.

Identifying scope of Zika cases in U.S. and gaps in evaluation and care management

This report updates previously published estimates of the proportion of fetuses or babies with birth defects among pregnant women with possible Zika infection reported to the U.S. Zika Pregnancy Registry from January 15 to December 27, 2016 in the 50 U.S. states and Washington D.C. The Registry includes data from all U.S. states, DC, and all U.S. territories except Puerto Rico; pregnancies in Puerto Rico are monitored separately by the Zika Active Pregnancy Surveillance System. This report also highlights possible gaps in clinical evaluation and management of infants with possible congenital Zika virus infection.

A couple viewing a sonagram
Healthcare providers can stay up to date on CDC’s Zika testing and follow-up guidance to give pregnant women and affected babies the best care possible.

Key findings in the Vital Signs report include:

  • Forty-four states reported pregnant women with evidence of Zika in 2016.
    • Most of these women acquired Zika virus infection during travel to an area with Zika.
  • Nearly 1,300 pregnant women with evidence of possible Zika infection were reported to the U.S. Zika Pregnancy Registry.
    • Of the 1,000 pregnancies that were completed by the end of the year, more than 50 had Zika-related birth defects.
  • Among pregnant women with confirmed Zika infection, about 1 in 10 had a fetus or baby with birth defects.
    • Confirmed infections in the first trimester posed the highest risk – with about 15% having Zika-related birth defects.
  • About 1 in 3 babies with possible congenital Zika infection had no report of Zika testing at birth.
  • Only 1 in 4 babies with possible congenital Zika infection were reported to have received brain imaging after birth.

“CDC recommends that pregnant women avoid travel to areas with risk of Zika and unprotected sex with a partner who has traveled to an area with Zika to prevent Zika-related birth defects in their babies,” said Peggy Honein, Ph.D., the Zika Response’s Pregnancy and Birth Defects Task Force co-lead. “CDC continues to work closely with health departments on the U.S. Zika Pregnancy Registry to follow up infants with possible congenital Zika virus infection and better understand the full range of disabilities that can result from this infection.”

CDC encourages healthcare providers to:

  • Educate families on Zika prevention.
  • Provide all needed tests and follow-up care.
  • Support babies and families.

CDC is continuously updating guidance for healthcare providers on testing and clinical care for pregnant women and babies affected by Zika. It is also monitoring new infections and working to identify the long-term outcomes of congenital Zika infection.

To learn more about Zika virus, visit Healthcare providers can visit for CDC’s latest clinical guidance, testing, and training information for Zika.

About Vital Signs

Vital Signs is a report that appears as part of the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Vital Signs provides the latest data and information on key health indicators: cancer prevention, obesity, tobacco use, motor vehicle passenger safety, prescription drug overdose, HIV/AIDS, alcohol use, health care-associated infections, cardiovascular health, teen pregnancy, food safety, and viral hepatitis.

Higher fines for repeat offenders should reel in problematic Colorado Springs landlords, city staff says

By: Conrad Swanson

As Colorado Springs’ cash-strapped code enforcement staff works to ensure decent housing for renters, it has found that about half of its housing cases and follow-up inspections are with about 3 percent of rental property owners.

Now the City Council is considering new laws and higher fees for those few problematic landlords.

“This is a long time in coming … for these vulnerable people to have some kind of relief,” Councilwoman Yolanda Avila said Monday at the council’s work session.

The proposed changes aren’t intended to target one landlord, said Mitch Hammes, the city’s neighborhood services manager and head of housing code enforcement.

But among that 3 percent – eight of 243 property owners – one clearly stands out.

Between June 27 and Oct. 31 last year, code enforcement opened 541 cases, 259 of which belonged to the eight property owners at issue, Hammes said.

But 198 of those 259 cases concern properties owned by one person. By comparison, the second-highest ranking property owner was responsible for 17 cases.

Neither Hammes nor city spokeswoman Kim Melchor would say who the biggest offender is, and Hammes noted that the quantity of cases does not necessarily equal severity.

But as The Gazette reported in November, most of the city’s housing cases and code violations are because of property owner Terry Ragan.

Residents of Ragan’s apartments, mostly sprinkled through the city’s southeast side, have been plagued by cockroaches, leaky pipes, bedbugs, mold, shootings, assaults and bogus tenant charges for decades.

The Gazette’s report followed on past investigations, showing that conditions in Ragan rentals have either stagnated or worsened over the past 15 years.

Ragan’s response to the proposed ordinances mirrored his response to past articles: He declined to comment.

The very definitions of repeat and chronic offenders, coupled with a small, ineffective fee for follow-up investigations, has restricted code enforcement’s abilities, Hammes said.

If the council approves the new ordinances, the property owners will be tied to complaints and subsequent investigations, Hammes said.

Each unit in a building now is treated as an individual violation, which complicates building-wide problems such as bed bug or cockroach infestations.

The city doesn’t charge property owners for initial inspections or follow-visits made to ensure a violation is corrected. Every third and subsequent visit carries a $100 charge, though, Hammes said.

With such a minuscule fine, some landlords would rather pay the city than resolve a problem, Council President Richard Skorman said.

But by updating the definition of repeat and chronic offenders, those fees can more than double, Hammes said.

“Once you fail to make a correction twice in six months, or if we’ve issued you five notices within 12 months for any property you own, then you’re designated a repeat offender, and then the inspection fee goes up to $250,” Hammes said.

If a repeat offender holds that status for a year, the person then is designated a chronic offender, and the fee rises to $500, Hammes said.

Property owners can remove themselves from such lists by staying violation-free for a year, he said.

The updates aim to create a financial incentive for property owners to address tenant complaints before code enforcement is notified, Melchor said.

“It’s not a money grab by the city,” Melchor said. “It’s trying to change behavior.”

It’s an attempt to “make sure the housing stock that we do have for rental is quality,” Hammes said. “And when there is a problem, that it’s addressed properly.”

Along with the proposed changes comes an administrative tweak officially designating Peter Wysocki, head of the city’s planning department, as the city’s code enforcement administrator.

Another change would direct any violation appeals from property owners through Municipal Court rather than the city’s Planning Commission and City Council, Hammes said. Appeals are rare, but this move would ensure that they’re resolved in about 10 days rather than weeks.

The council will vote later this month on whether to approve the new ordinances, Hammes said.

First on 10: Infestation of bed bugs found at Woonsocket fire stat



The Woonsocket Fire Department is dealing with an infestation of bed bugs at one of their stations, NBC 10 News learned on Thursday.

Chief Paul Shatraw said they discovered there was an issue after one of the firefighters developed a rash. He went to the hospital, where it was determined he suffered possible bed bug bites.

“It appeared to be bed bug bites,” Shatraw told NBC 10.

As a result, an exterminator inspected Fire Station Number 3 on North Main Street and found the infestation in the living quarters of the station.

A pest control company treated the building, as well as a rescue and an engine truck, on Wednesday. They also removed all bedding, clothing, lockers and personal items.

“We took aggressive action,” the chief said.

The pest company is scheduled to return to the station to double check that the treatment was successful.

“These are actually the second homes for these men and women of the fire department, so we want to make sure they are as comfortable as possible when, in fact, they do come back,” Shatraw said.

Meanwhile, the firefighters were relocated to Station 6 on Fairmount Street without an interruption of services.

“In terms of them coming back, we certainly won’t put them back in the building until we get 100 percent clearance from the pest control company that it’s been completely eradicated,” Shatraw said.

The chief also said that it is unclear at this point where the bed bugs came from, noting that it’s possible the critters were clinging to clothing after firefighters made an emergency call.

“We’re in an out of residential dwellings, nursing homes, the hospital, boarding homes, apartment houses,” Shatraw said.

The news comes about a month after there were bed beg bed concerns at Woonsocket High School.

Dr. Patrick J. McGee, who is the superintendent of the city’s school department, previously said one case of bed bugs was reported on January 29 to the school nurse, who followed the district protocol and addressed the issue.

“First, let me say that there is no infestation, nor has there been an infestation, of bed bugs at Woonsocket High School or any other school in the Woonsocket Education Department,” McGee said in a letter sent to parents and staff members on Feb. 7.

“Next, the custodial staff at Woonsocket High School followed the district’s Pest Management and Control Procedures and thoroughly treated the necessary rooms on the evening of the reported incident,” McGee said, adding that there have not been any reports or cases of bed bugs at the school since. “Again, this was an isolated case and not an infestation of bed bugs at Woonsocket High School.”

While they are gross, unpleasant and itchy, Joseph Wendelken, who is a spokesman for the Health Department, said the organization doesn’t usually get involved in bed bug cases.

But, said Wendelken, there’s a silver lining.

“The good news, if there is any good news about bed bugs, is that they don’t transmit disease,” Wendelken said, adding that “they’re great hitchhikers.”

The firefighters union president told NBC 10 they are working to make sure the bugs didn’t spread to firefighters homes or homes they may have responded to.

(NBC 10’s Brian Crandall contributed to this report.)

Monsanto Mouthpieces: House Science Committee, EPA, EU-EFSA


I was very pleased to have the opportunity to testify in Congress to defend the reputation and integrity  of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer research arm of the World Health Organization. It has been the target of an orchestrated attack campaign from Monsanto Co. and other corporate giants whose toxic products are being linked to cancer.

In Spring, 2015, IARC convened a Working Group of 17 cancer science experts from 11 countries to review the evidence, and they concluded that glyphosate, the main ingredient in the herbicide Roundup, “probably” causes cancer in humans (Group 2A, Volume 112). In immediate response, Monsanto and the agrochemical industry launched a ferocious anti-IARC campaign that IARC Director Dr. Christopher Wild described as, “unprecedented, coordinated efforts to undermine the evaluation, the program and the organization”. The goals of Monsanto’s anti-IARC propaganda campaign are to:

  • support glyphosate registration and approval worldwide;
  • defend itself against litigation claims by farmers that were once Monsanto customers and are now cancer patients;
  • prevent labeling of glyphosate-containing products as containing a carcinogen in the State of California.

The House Congressional Hearing was titled: In Defense of Scientific Integrity: Examining the IARC Monograph Programme and Glyphosate Review (Feb 6, 2018).  The House Science Committee in recent years has become known for holding hearings to advance the chemical industry’s agenda of attacking government chemical assessment programs. The full three-hour show trial  can be viewed on the Committee website, along with the testimony of all four witnesses  – three aligned with Monsanto, and my lone testimony defending the process and conclusions of the IARC Working Group.

You can watch a short video summary.

The industry-led criticisms of the IARC Monographs are part of a documented public relations campaign described by Dr. Jonathan Samet, a prestigious medical professor and frequent Chair of National Academies committees, as, “…archetypical of strategies for creating ‘doubt’ about scientific evidence that has policy implications. Such strategies can be traced to the ‘playbook’ of the tobacco industry for discrediting findings related to active and passive smoking.” (Samet 2015)

It seems that these tobacco industry strategies have also captured the pesticide regulatory agencies on both sides of the Atlantic. Both the US EPA Pesticide Office and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) have classified glyphosate as not linked to cancer, breaking with long-standing practice of aligning with the IARC cancer hazard assessments. To quote an internal Monsanto memo, “[Monsanto Regulatory Affairs] is not aware of a situation where a regulatory body took a different position than IARC”. (Monsanto memo, Feb 23, 2015).

So, why are the US and EU pesticide regulatory agencies so closely aligned with the perspective of the big agrochemical companies?  We may never know the full story, but we know this much:

  • There has been a disturbing level of communication and collaboration over a number of years between Monsanto employees and senior EPA Pesticide Office official Jess Rowland, who headed up the EPA pesticide Cancer Assessment Review Committee. Monsanto internal emails in late 2015 specifically identify that Rowland, “will be retiring from EPA in 5-6 [months] and could be useful as we move forward with ongoing glyphosate defense.” Rowland has retired from EPA, but concerns of collusion sparked an investigation by the EPA Inspector General that is  ongoing.
  • The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) assessment of glyphosate was essentially drafted from Monsanto documents. The European Parliament hosted a public hearing and launched an investigation of conflicts of interest at all levels regarding whether the European Commission followed its own regulations when approving glyphosate for another five years.  That investigation is also ongoing.

The Science Committee’s hearing and the associated campaign against IARC have featured a series of misleading or made-up claims that target IARC’s glyphosate assessment, while promoting an alternate approach – which has largely been adopted by both the EPA Pesticide Office and EFSA — in which evidence of cancer or other health harms is disregarded.

Industry’s methods are aggressively promoted by corporate chemical trade organizations that include Monsanto among its members; the International Life Sciences Institute(representing food manufacturers); CropLife America International (representing Agrochemical manufacturers); and, the American Chemistry Council (representing chemical manufacturers) that was dubbed The Cancer Lobby by NY Times columnist Nicholas Kristof.

Setting the Record Straight on False Science

I’ve blogged in the past about how the EPA Pesticide Office’s and EFSA’s cancer assessments differ from IARC, and also how the EPA Pesticide Office veered from the Agency’s own Cancer Guidelines in coming to its conclusions. Below I untangle some of the most oft-spouted false or manipulative claims of the chemical industry, using the IARC and EPA glyphosate assessments as a case study.

False: IARC is an extreme organization that says everything causes cancer

The Truth:  only about 20% of substances examined by IARC have been classified as known or probable human carcinogens

To date the IARC Monographs have evaluated over 1,000 chemicals or other agents, all with at least enough cancer data to support a nomination for consideration. Yet, only 120 are classified as known human carcinogens (Group 1) and only about 80, including glyphosate, as probable human carcinogens (Group 2A). About half have too little data to classify at all (Group 3), which is a terrible gap in our chemical regulatory process given that many of them are used in workplaces and in commercial products.

Some examples are below:

Group 1 Known to be carcinogenic to humans 120 agents asbestos, benzene, diesel exhaust, formaldehyde, tobacco smoke, Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), outdoor air pollution, TCE
Group 2A Probably carcinogenic to humans 81 agents glyphosate, malathion, DDT, methylene chloride, polybrominated biphenyls, perchloroethylene
Group 2B Possibly carcinogenic to humans 299 agents 1-bromopropane, acrylonitrile, carbon black, carbon tetrachloride, parathion, multiwalled carbon nanotubes (MWCNT-7),
Group 3 Not classifiable, inadequate evidence 502 agents prednisone, caffeine, methotrexate, aniline, isopropyl alcohol, single-walled carbon nanotubes
Group 4 Probably not carcinogenic 1 agent Caprolactam (used in some plastics)

False: Two Monsanto-sponsored review articles prove glyphosate is safe

The Truth:  The review articles available at the time of IARC’s review did not report enough study details to be independently verified – had the detailed data been available, it may have strengthened the link with cancer

The centerpiece of the industry-manufactured criticism of IARC is that it allegedly disregarded two Monsanto-sponsored review articles, Greim et al 2015 and  Kier and Kirkland 2013. In both cases, however, the publications  didn’t provide sufficient details of the underlying studies “for independent evaluation of the conclusions reached by the Monsanto scientist and other authors,” according to IARC. IARC only considers publicly available information, and no other information or study details were available to the Working Group or the public.

Greim et al (2015) deserves special mention because the study details in the review article have since been made available to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), so we now know that there are many more tumors in the animal studies than the authors reported, making the link to cancer even stronger. These are the data sets that the Republican majority witness, industry consultant Dr. Tarone claims in his Hearing testimony were not reviewed by IARC, and which he alleges would have exonerated glyphosate. But rather than exonerating glyphosate, an analysis of those data conducted by Dr. Christopher Portier identifies an excessively high number of malignant lymphomas and hemangiosarcomas in male mice (see report, p. 37, Table 15).

Dr. Helmut Greim is himself of questionable scientific integrity. Dr. Greim chaired a ‘scientific panel’ funded by carmakers to counter the 2012 IARC determination that diesel exhaust is a known human carcinogen. Dr. Greim’s panel conducted studies on monkeys – reported as ‘Monkeygate’ –  exposing them in a chamber to diesel exhaust. However, the studies were rigged because the cars in the chambers were using the “cheating” device that reduced emissions. The study was never published, but the events were reported in the NY Times. Reuters reported that the German government said such studies are unjustifiable.

False Claim: The recently published update of the National Cancer Institute’s Agricultural Health Study does not show a link between glyphosate and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL), and therefore IARC is wrong

The Truth: The AHS update and other epidemiology studies show a link with cancer

The IARC Working Group identified epidemiologic studies from the US, Canada and Sweden that reported an elevated risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NLH), a type of blood cancer, associated with exposure to glyphosate, even after adjusting for exposure to other pesticides (see IARC Monograph on glyphosate, p.75-76).

However, the Agricultural Health Study (Ag Health Study), which was included in the IARC Working Group assessment, did not show an excess NHL risk among the study subjects. This study has been ongoing since 1993 by the U.S. National Cancer Institute. It tracks pesticide exposures and health status for almost 90 thousand farmers and their spouses (called a prospective cohort study). The incremental results for many pesticides have been published in dozens of studies.

Lost or buried in much of the reporting of the Ag Health Study is that the 2017 study did find some evidence of a possible association between glyphosate and another type of blood cancer called acute myeloid leukemia (AML). The possible link with this type of leukemia should be very concerning to the public and particularly to pesticide applicators, because AML is a very serious fast-growing blood cancer, with only about one-quarter of the people that have it surviving longer than 5 years. The  authors warn, “Given the prevalence of use of this herbicide worldwide, expeditious efforts to replicate these findings are warranted.”

Also published since IARC’s assessment is a 2016 Monsanto-sponsored systematic review and meta-analysis of epidemiologic studies, including the Ag Health Study, which specifically identifies a statistically significant risk of NHL from glyphosate exposure (Chang and Delzell 2016), strengthening the IARC assessment conclusions from a year earlier.

With the epidemiology studies identified in the 2015 IARC review linking glyphosate-based products to blood cancer, the 2016 Monsanto-sponsored systematic review and meta-analysis of studies identifying a link to blood cancer, and the 2017 Ag Health Study report of a possible association with another blood cancer type, there is compelling evidence that glyphosate-based products used out in the fields under real-world conditions pose an elevated risk of blood cancers.

False: The dose makes the poison, so things at low doses are safe even if they are toxic at high doses

The Truth: This statement – a favorite of chemical industry consultants and lobbyists — is about 500 years out of date

The chemical industry mantra is that the dose makes the poison, so that any consideration of hazard without its “context” – by which the industry means the exposure or dose – is outdated. This was the main – actually, the only – thrust of the Hearing witness Dr. Tim Pastoor, who retired from agrochemical giant Syngenta in 2015. This wisdom traces back to Paracelsus, a 16th Century physician, alchemist, and astrologer, who – consistent with medical understanding at the time – treated his syphilis patients with enough mercury to kill some of them, and drained the blood of others.

While the dose is certainly an important part of characterizing the potential risk posed by a substance, additional factors like genetics, co-exposures to other toxic substances, diet and lifestyle effects, health status, age at exposure, and duration or pattern of exposure can all have a strong, or even dominant impact on whether cancer or other adverse effects occur. For example, exposure to mercury or lead for even a short duration may cause severe neurological impacts to children, but have less or even no obvious effects on adults.  A 2017 National Academies report emphasizes the importance of these factors when evaluating low-dose toxicity of chemicals.

False Claim: Tumors in rodents in the high-dose treatment group shouldn’t count as evidence of cancer risk

The Truth: Tumors in the high dose group predict cancer risks at lower doses 

Laboratory studies in animals are conducted over a wide range of doses, often including high doses far above what the average person is exposed to, in order to have enough statistical power to detect an effect in a small number of animals. For example, if we are testing a chemical at a dose that causes cancer in 1-in-a-thousand people – a very high rate of cancer — we would need at least one thousand rodents at that dose just to see one rodent with tumors. For ethical, practical, and economic reasons, most of the glyphosate tests conducted by Monsanto used about 50 rodents per dose, which is standard practice. So, it is routine practice to have a high-dose treatment group, and then extrapolate from risks at the high dose down to lesser risks at lower doses. According to EPA’ own Cancer Guidelines, tumors at all doses should be considered relevant. (EPA 2005, p. 41).

EPA’s last assessment of glyphosate failed review by the independent expert Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP), with the Panel  pointing out that EPA’s numerous ways of discounting tumors in the test animals (see details in my March 28, 2017 blog) was “flawed” and that it had failed to follow its own Cancer Guidelines in numerous critical ways (for example, see SAP March 2016 report, pages 18-21). The majority of SAP members also disagreed with EPA’s classification of glyphosate as ‘not likely’ a carcinogen, and felt that there was enough evidence of cancer risks to “suggest human carcinogenic potential of glyphosate…” (SAP March 2016 report, pages 16-17).

In its most recent revised draft assessment, EPA’s Pesticide Office has still not addressed the Science Advisory Panel’s concerns.  The draft ignores most of the concerns raised by the Panel, and instead simply repeats the mantra that it is following a systematic review process for determining which studies to assess and rely upon.  But nobody has seen or had an opportunity to review or comment on the Pesticide Office’s review methods.  It is a black box in which, it appears, EPA is still relying upon the same approach that ran afoul of the Science Advisory Panel and violates the Agency’s own Cancer Guidelines, including improperly discounting cancer evidence.

False Claim: EPA followed international standards and best practices for study evaluation and data integration (systematic review)

The Truth: EPA and EFSA followed the agrochemical industry recommendations, which led to disregarding evidence that glyphosate may cause cancer

The EPA Pesticide Office and the European EFSA that approves pesticides for food crops both followed Monsanto’s methods for discarding and downplaying evidence of tumors in glyphosate studies (detailed in my blog, March 28, 2017). While EFSA developed their assessment from a draft provided to them by Monsanto directly, the EPA Pesticide Office says that it is using a systematic review process of the EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention (OCSPP). This office, known as the Toxics Office, is now under the management of Nancy Beck, a chemical industry lobbyist prior to her recent political appointment at EPA.  Dr. Beck’s previous foray into developing risk assessment guidelines was a failure, as evidenced by the National Academies conclusion that the draft government-wide risk assessment bulletin which she authored while at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) was “fundamentally flawed” and the unprecedented recommendation for its withdrawal (NAS 2007).

The OCSPP review method used for the glyphosate assessment has not been subjected to public and stakeholder scrutiny, or peer review. Further, it veers from the recommendations of the National Academies and best practices of the EPA chemical testing program, Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) in a number of critical ways, all of which are promoted by the chemical industry, and favor industry outcomes including:

  • preferentially relying on Guideline studies, which are conducted by the regulated industry to support the approval of its products; and,
  • preferentially relying on studies following so-called Good Laboratory Practices (GLP), which are required by industry product-testing labs to prevent malfeasance and misconduct.

An internal EPA memo indicates that the Pesticide Office failed to follow EPA Cancer Guidelines, and had it done so its assessment, and conclusions, might look more like IARC’s  (ORD memo, Dec 14, 2015).

The problem with relying on Guideline (validated protocol) studies is that they are meant for chemical manufacturers to support the review and approval of their products. For that reason, they are most often designed to identify only major toxic effects (apical effects). However, a focus on only major health endpoints will not be predictive or indicate early-warnings of potential toxicity that may lead to other major adverse health outcomes.  Guideline studies don’t necessarily use modern methods for evaluating chemicals and aren’t designed to grapple with the problems of low-dose exposures, endocrine or hormonal effects, behavioral or learning effects, immunotoxicity, cardiotoxicity, or pre-adverse ‘upstream’ effects like reduced sperm count or reduced anogenital distance which are predictors of infertility.

Dr. James Bus – previously a chemist for Dow Chemical —  in testimony before the House Science Committee on behalf of the chemical industry,  said high quality studies were ones that adhered to ‘Good Laboratory Practices’, i.e. GLP standards. The GLP standards have been required for industry test labs since the 1970s after flagrant violations and fraud were identified (Industrial Bio-Test laboratory was shut down and its directors were imprisoned as a result of the investigations).  The chemical industry has used its considerable powers of alchemy to transform the restrictions imposed to prevent rampant fraud into a badge of honor and good housekeeping seal of approval.  The industry likes to promote so-called “GLP studies” as higher quality and more reliable, because it favors the industry’s own studies over those of independent scientists in academia and government who aren’t subject to the same standards. Since those independent sources are also more likely to identify concerns over the safety of chemicals, whether or not the studies are “GLP” is a useful way of excluding studies that pose the greatest threat to the industry.  However, while GLP standards are useful for ensuring that commercial laboratories don’t commit outright fraud, they are not a reliable indicator of whether a particular study is of low or high quality. A 2014 National Academies of Sciences report noted that GLP guidelines fail to prevent flawed, unreliable or biased-by-design studies (pages 62-63). The same report praised the EPA IRISprogram systematic review methods which are not weighted to favor either GLP or Guideline studies.

Bad Science Also Bad for Health

Chemical corporations and their Cancer Lobby trade groups have been shown many times to defend their toxic products using manipulative tactics, false scientific information and phony front groups (see Chicago Tribune series on defending toxic flame retardants in household furniture and other consumer products, for example). As Nicholas Kristof states in his NY Times column, “The larger issue is whether the federal government should be a watchdog for public health, or a lap dog for industry.” That is, when regulated agencies are captured by the economic interests they are supposed to regulate, public health is sacrificed.

IARC Monographs are considered essential for informing cancer prevention strategies and effective public health decision-making around the world.  Fundamentally, the recent Congressional Hearing and the larger public debate, which is mostly being fueled by Monsanto’s high-powered public relations and product defense campaign — is about the ability of a public health agency to call a carcinogen a carcinogen, even if the carcinogen makes a huge amount of money for a powerful corporation.

The predictable next step after the House Science Committee Hearing is an effort during the budget and appropriations negotiations this spring and summer to cut off U.S. funding for IARC and other public-funded chemical assessment programs. Of course, even without government chemical hazard assessment programs, the cancers will still occur – with their obvious terrible toll on individuals, families, health care costs, and the economy – but the tumors won’t be counted, and the causes won’t be tracked, making successful prevention more difficult.

We must continue to resist the endless lobby campaign of Monsanto and the chemical industry and protect government scientists and chemical assessment programs, to let them do the important work of generating credible publicly-available chemical hazard assessments on glyphosate, and all the other chemicals to which we are routinely exposed in our food, our drinking water, in household products, in building materials and through so many other every day routes of exposure.  Our health depends on it.

Brazil’s fundamental pesticide law under attack



  • In 2008, Brazil became the largest pesticide consumer in the world – the dual result of booming industrial agribusiness and ineffective environmental regulation.
  • In 1989, the country established one of the then toughest pesticide laws in the world (7,802/1989), which included the precautionary principle in its pesticide evaluation and registration standards. However, limited staffing and budget has made the law very difficult to implement and enforce.
  • With its increasing power after 2000, the bancada ruralista, the agribusiness lobby, has worked to overthrow that law, an effort thwarted to date but more likely to succeed under the Temer administration and the current ruralista-dominated Congress.
  • Lax pesticide use regulation and education have major health and environmental consequences. Farmers often use pesticides without proper safety gear, while children are often in the fields when spraying occurs. Some experts blame pesticides partly for Brazil’s high cancer rate – cancer is the nation’s second leading cause of death.
Applying pesticides in the field. Brazil is the world’s biggest user of chemical pesticide. Photo by prodbdf on flickr

Pesticides are flourishing on fertile economic ground in Brazil, thanks to the large government subsidies and low taxes granted to the companies manufacturing them, the negligible costs for national registration of active chemical ingredients, and virtually nonexistent pesticide use oversight.

These and other incentives – plus explosive agribusiness growth – resulted in Brazil achieving a dubious record in 2008, when it became the largest pesticide consumer in the world, according to a Kleffmann Group study commissioned by the National Association of Plant Defense (ANDEF), representing Brazil’s pesticide manufacturers. (Oddly, a negative press response to the study caused ANDEF to deny its own findings  for years.)

Number one or not, the national statistics are eye opening. ACCording to IBAMA, Brazil’s environmental protection agency, and other data, chemical pesticide active ingredient sales grew countrywide by 313 percent between 2000 and 2014, rising from 162,461 tons to 508,566 tons. São Paulo, Mato Grosso and Paraná became the major trading states over that periodBut even once small pesticide consumers, like Amazonas, Amapá and Acre, saw exponential growth, with use soaring by 1,941 percent, 942 percent, and 500 percent, respectively, in sales per ton between 2005 and 2012 in these Amazon states.

Brazilian pesticide consumption and related products (2000 – 2014). Vertical axis: 1,000 tons of active ingredient; horizontal axis: year. Chart courtesy of IBAMA. Data consolidation provided by the registrant companies of technical products, pesticides and the like, according to article 41 of Decree nº 4,074/2002. Updated April 2016

Pesticide use driven by government policy

Pesticides were first imported to Brazil in the 1960s, but it was in 1975, with creation of the National Development Plan (PND) that commercialization grew significantly. Under the PND, farmers were obliged to purchase pesticides to obtain rural credit.

Consumption gained momentum in the first decade of the 21st century, when the bancada ruralista, Brazil’s powerful agribusiness lobby, significantly increased the number of seats it held in Congress, which led to subsidies and tax breaks favorable to pesticide makers.

The explosive growth of pesticide consumption went hand in hand with the increase in agriculture exports. According to data from the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), in 1975 the production of cereals, legumes and oilseeds in the country amounted to just 39.4 million tons. In 2014 that grew to 194.5 million tons of grains grown on 56.7 million hectares (218.2 million square miles), and in 2017 to 240.6 million tons on 61.1 million hectares (235.2 million square miles).

Two major commodities, soybeans and corn – both which require high pesticide use – represented much of that growth. In 2000, the value of all grains produced in Brazil was US$ 6.5 billion; of this, soybeans and corn accounted for US$ 4.6 billion. In 2016, the total value of grains rose to US$ 54.8 billion, of which US$ 44.9 billion came from soy and corn.

“Brazilian agriculture has been consolidated through the expansion of crops turned to commodities or agrofuels that demand intensive use of pesticides,” concludes a study, Geography of the Use of Agrochemicals in Brazil and Connections with the European Union, by Larissa Mies Bombardi, at the Agrarian Geography Laboratory at the University of São Paulo.

“Brazil consumes about 20 percent of all pesticides sold commercially worldwide,” that study concludes. “There are [currently] 504 pesticides allowed for use in Brazil, and of these, 30 percent are banned in the European Union – some more than a decade ago.”

Large scale crop spraying. Photo by Trish Steel licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license

The glyphosate example

Brazil’s high pesticide usage has potential consequences for human health and the environment. For example, one of the most consumed herbicides in the country is Monsanto’s globally controversial glyphosate which has been linked to numerous health problems, and one of whose inert ingredients has been shown to cause cell death.

A technical opinion requested by the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office and issued in May 2015 by Brazilian researchers Sonia Hess and Rubens Nodari, performed an “extensive review of international scientific literature” regarding glyphosate. Among their conclusions is that the herbicide has an endocrine disrupting effect on human liver cells and, in the concentration of parts per trillion (ppt), induces the proliferation of human cells of breast cancer.

And yet, glyphosate regulation remains lax in Brazil, where the herbicide is allowed in application at up to 500 milligrams per liter. The European Union (EU) limits the maximum amount of glyphosate to 0.1 milligrams per liter, or 5,000 times less. Likewise, with soybean spraying, Brazil allows 200 times greater glyphosate residue; 10 milligrams per kilogram residue is acceptable in Brazil, against 0.05 milligrams per kilogram in the EU.

Social movements and environmental organizations march in Brasilia as part of the Permanent Campaign against Agrochemicals and for Life. Photo by Marcello Casal Jr/ABr licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Brazil license

Brazil’s fundamental pesticide law under attack

Despite the dominance achieved by industrial agribusiness in Brazil during the 21st Century, and the record high use of chemical pesticides there, the bancadaruralista – in alliance with the pesticide industry and the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Food Supply (MAPA) – desires much more deregulation.

According to experts interviewed for this article, the agribusiness sector has been working steadily for nearly three decades to dismantle legislation currently controlling chemical pesticide registration and use in Brazil.

At the heart of this crusade is an effort to eliminate the country’s landmark, foundational pesticide regulatory act (7,802/1989), which reads in part:

Pesticides, their components and the like can only be produced, exported, imported, sold and consumed if previously registered with a federal agency, in accordance with the guidelines and requirements of the federal agencies responsible for the health, environment and agriculture sectors.

According to the law, ANVISA (Brazil’s health protection agency), IBAMA, and MAPA are responsible for implementing the pesticide registration process. The two agencies carry out hazard assessments, determining potential harm to humans and the environment; while MAPA analyzes agronomic performance and registers products.

Under the rules, the hazard assessment performed by the two agencies is stringent, with pesticides categorized by intrinsic toxicity. Products must be automatically banned, regardless of dose, if classified as carcinogenic (cancer-causing), teratogenic (harmful to embryo or fetus), capable of producing cellular changes, hormonal disorders or reproductive harm.

“The 1989 law was perhaps the most advanced in the world at the time,” Victor Pelaez told Mongabay. He is a professor of economics and coordinator of the Observatory on the Pesticides Industry at the Federal University of Paraná (UFPR). Long before the European Union instituted similar regulations in 2011, Brazil’s law 7,802 “already incorporated the precautionary principle,” which many nations, including the U.S. have yet to embrace. “That is, it recognized the tremendous high risk of not controlling excessive hazards to human health.”

Unfortunately for Brazil’s environment and its people, law 7,802 had a critical flaw. It failed to provide the needed mechanisms and staff for implementation. The legislation never worked properly because of the “impracticability of such [strict] control, given the scarce supervision resources [granted to] the public bodies,” Pelaez said.

The slowness of pesticide registration has, as a result, long frustrated the pesticide industry, which wants its products quickly approved, while the lack of regulatory staffing and oversight has frustrated environmentalists wanting careful analysis of pesticides.

Monsanto Lasso herbcide to be sprayed on food crops showing proper protective gear. Photo courtesy of the USDA

The drive to deregulate

Since law 7,802 was passed in 1989, dozens of bills have been introduced in congress by the ruralists, and pushed by pesticide industry lobbyists, to eliminate its strict regulatory framework. The primary push, unsuccessful so far, has been to remove ANVISA and IBAMA from the chemical pesticide registration process.

Another goal of the ruralists and pesticide makers has been to abolish the nation’s current stringent pesticide hazard analysis requirement – a particular scientific method used by the two agencies to evaluate biocide toxicity – and to replace it with a less strict risk assessment requirement.

To appreciate motivations for this proposed change, it is important to understand the vast technical difference between “hazard analysis” and “risk assessment.”

Hazard analysis (which in Brazil incorporates the precautionary principle) fully rejects for registration any toxic agents that have been studied extensively and found to possess “significant hazards” of causing disease or doing environmental harm.

Risk assessment, on the other hand, is the probability that a hazard will occur and do harm when a product is used; an evaluation that encompasses much more uncertainty and allows more leeway in pesticide approval. Risk assessments are preferred by the ruralists and the pesticide industry who want more freedom in the selection and application of bio toxins.

Aerial spraying can be particularly hazardous to public health depending on application and winds. Photo credit: Don McCullough on Visualhunt / CC BY-NC

Typical of the bills pressed by the ruralists is PLS 526 of 1999, a measure meant to exclude ANVISA and IBAMA from the pesticide registration process. PLS 526 was authored by Blairo Maggi, then known as “The Soy King” for being Brazil’s biggest soy grower. Today Maggi is Brazil’s influential minister of agriculture.

That bill, however, languished in the Chamber of Deputies and then was rejiggered as PL 6299/2002, which also went nowhere during the Lula and Dilma administrations.

Thwarted by the multi-decade delay, the ruralists last year saw a new chance to move ahead with deregulation, working through the more sympathetic Temer administration. Agribusiness sought a fast track workaround to legislation: MAPA sent a draft of an MP, a Provisional Measure equivalent to a presidential executive order, to the Executive’s Chief of Staff for review in March, 2017. As with PL 6299, the MP proposed the exclusion of ANVISA and IBAMA from the pesticides licensing process.

However, the pesticide deregulation MP (which if approved by the president, would take effect immediately), met with widespread criticism in the press, and has since disappeared from view. According to Jacimara Machado, IBAMA’s director of environmental quality, the agency kept waiting for the Chief of Staff “to discuss the MP’s draft,” but nothing happened.

Unfazed, the ruralists are preparing another maneuver for 2018, according to Cleber Folgado, a member of the National Forum and the Bahia Forum Against Pesticides, coordinated by Brazil’s State Public Ministry. In September, “[T]he bancada ruralista and the Temer government negotiated a new bill draft that would replace PL 6299/2002,” Folgado told Mongabay.

As scientific evidence grows regarding the potential health impacts of Monsanto’s pesticides, a global movement has risen against the company. Photo credit: msdonnalee on VisualHunt / CC BY

The new bill synthesizes eighteen measures related to PL 6299, all which advance pesticide deregulation. The new PL would establish an “agricultural governing body” to handle the evaluation and approval of pesticide registration, with that entity’s review based not on hazard analysis, but on less stringent risk assessments, and also focused more on pesticide crop effectiveness. ANVISA and IBAMA would have no say in the registration process and likely serve only as enforcers of the body’s decisions. In part it reads:

The agriculture governing body will be able to define criteria and establish priority in the analysis of registrations or post-registration claims, based on the need for greater control of agricultural pests…. The health and the environmental agencies will adopt the priorities duly established by the agriculture body.

If the ruralists, Congress, and Maggi’s MAPA achieve their goal, the new measure would probably allow an unprecedented number of biocides to be registered and to quickly enter the market, maybe including substances already banned in Brazil.

Under the weaker risk assessment process, for instance, pesticides with known carcinogenic potential could no longer be rejected out of hand; instead, they could be registered with the understanding that they should be used in an established and proper manner to reduce the risk of their effects – even though Brazil lacks the regulatory staff to oversee the use risk reduction process.

The MAPA draft justifies the easing of pesticide regulations in this manner:

In a literal interpretation of the law, the regulator bodies [IBAMA and ANVISA] have understood that it is enough that the product presents those intrinsic [hazardous] characteristics to not be registered, regardless of the levels to which humans are exposed. It would be the same as, by making an analogy, every car was to be forbidden from being produced and marketed by its characteristic of being dangerous, i.e., of causing accidents.

The MAPA draft adds: “Prohibiting the use of a substance without considering the exposure levels does not protect the health of the population more than when it is applied correctly, within the limits set by a thorough risk assessment.”

Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi defended the proposed measure on television last July, stating simply: “What we are trying to do is make bureaucratic processes faster.”

A cartoon confronts the paradox of pesticide regulatory measures: while protective gear may keep people safe, it doesn’t safeguard wildlife and the environment. Image by healthfulQuest on flickr

A critique of deregulation

UFPR’s Pelaez refutes MAPA’s and Maggi’s deregulation arguments: “In a country without a monitoring structure and communication resources on the intrinsic danger of pesticides, approving them in the name of a risk assessment is a setback and practically a crime.”

Palaez notes that Brazil’s pesticide registration process is in dire need of funds, and he compares the Brazilian procedure unfavorably with that in the United States: “The U.S. government, as a way of enabling an assessment process compatible with the demands of the regulated sector, charges up to US$ 630,000 [to pesticide companies] for the registration of a new active [pesticide] ingredient. This [helps] finance the high costs of toxicological analysis of registration applications submitted by manufacturing companies. In Brazil, the maximum amount charged is around US$ 3,000,” so the industry contributes little money to quicken the registration process.

The difference between the two nations doesn’t end there. While an American license lasts just 15 years, in Brazil a registration never expires – a potentially dangerous situation because new research may uncover formerly unknown health and environmental hazards. Currently, new study evidence can trigger a pesticide re-evaluation in Brazil, although that reanalysis could take years, as in the case of glyphosate which remains in use, despite recent findings of its harmful effects.

The Ministry of Agriculture did not respond to Mongabay’s interview request. ANVISA’s communication office, when contacted by Mongabay, responded that they would “not comment on speculations” regarding potential pesticide regulation changes.

IBAMA’s Machado said that the agency is not against using risk assessment as a tool, but added it would need time to make such changes: “We need to create a structure, do studies, analyze different scenarios and establish procedures, not to mention staff training. None of this is ready.”

Tractor and spraying equipment. Photo by Maasaak licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license

Agencies under staffed and under pressure

For years, ANVISA, part of the Ministry of Health, has operated under intense political pressure from the ruralist lobby. In 2012, Luis Claudio Meirelles, then ANVISA’s general manager, was dismissed after denouncing irregularities in the approval of pesticides that were under analysis.

The same year, Eduardo Daher of ANDEF, the pesticide industry association, gave an interview to the Getúlio Vargas Foundation in which he attacked the regulatory agency: “ANVISA… tries to manage [everything] from breast prosthesis to… pastry. It plays God. The government is not able to coordinate it; it is politically oriented and ideologically manipulated.”

At a congressional hearing, Kátia Abreu, a senator for Tocantins state, a ruralist, and a former minister of Agriculture, denounced the “slowness” of the agency in approving and releasing pesticides for use: “Thousands of Brazilians who earn a minimum wage need to eat food [treated] with pesticides because it is the only way to make food cheaper.… ANVISA plays a backward role for the country, to the detriment of agriculture.”

Analysts point out that there is a good reason for ANVISA’s “slowness.” In 2012, the government provided the agency with just 20 technicians in its pesticide registration area, even though 1,500 products awaited evaluation.

IBAMA isn’t any better staffed: the chemical and biological substances analysis department, which evaluates not only pesticides but also dispersants, oil, fuels, and other substances, currently has 37 employees, while 2,000 registration applications are pending.

“Without operational capacity, we take five years, on average, to begin evaluating a product, while the assessment itself takes [on average] five months,” said IBAMA’s Machado. “Manufacturers complain about the delay. But while we release an average of ten products per week, 30 new applications enter the agency,” over the same period. In comparison, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has roughly 850 technicians assigned to evaluation, registration and monitoring of pesticides alone.

In January of 2017, MAPA celebrated an “historic record”: 277 new pesticides were registered in 2016 (of which 161 were generic). The previous year 182 licenses were approved, 43 of them generic.

A generic pesticide combines, in addition to its active ingredient, other chemicals for varying purposes, facilitating the absorption of poisons, for example. Importantly, neither hazard analys nor risk assessment currently evaluates the synergistic effects of pesticides – the interaction of all ingredients, producing a greater effect than each separately.

Spraying pesticides. Brazil’s 1989 pesticide law is one of the toughest in the world, except that it lacks the tools for staffing and timely implementation. Photo by AlcheaNemesis

“Sells like soda”

While MAPA officially advocates for the safe use of highly toxic pesticides, assuring they’re applied under controlled conditions – moderating dose, levels of exposure, safety equipment, and more – the reality out in the field is far different, say experts.

Farmers are often unaware of the dangers of the chemicals they use, alone and in combination. “Instead of applying one pesticide at a time, many farmers combine an herbicide, a pesticide, and an acaricide [pesticides that kill members of the arachnid subclass Acari, which includes ticks and mites], for example, and make a single application on crops to save on aerial spraying,” said Forum Against Pesticides’ Folgado. These “so-called toxic syrups (caldas tóxicas, in Portuguese) increase the toxicity of biocides and [have become] a public health problem in Brazil. They are not evaluated by ANVISA or any other body.”

Lacking proper state oversight and training, small scale farmers also often adopt unhealthy practices, as shown in a documentary entitled The insecure use of pesticides, by Pedro Abreu, a Ph.D. student in collective health at the Faculty of Medical Sciences of the State University of Campinas, and Herling Alonzo, professor of environmental health and toxicology at the same institution.

One case documented in the film deals with a man who regularly used Monsanto’s Roundup on his crops ­– an herbicide whose active ingredient is glyphosate. The man applied the poison without any self protection, while wearing shorts and slippers; he died of cancer, though his death can’t be directly linked to Roundup.

Improper spraying gear. Many experts believe that a sharp rise in cancers in Brazil may be due to pesticides and other environmental toxins. Photo by Bt Brinjal on flickr

The film registered other examples of improper use, in which, for example, one farmer stored pesticides in his family’s living space, while another purchased them without an agronomist’s recommendation or instruction. José Reis, a family farmer from Lavras, Minas Gerais, told Abreu: The store “used to ask [for] a letter [of prescription], but not anymore, now [pesticides] sell just like soda.”

Emerson Abreu, a young farmer, added: buying pesticides is “the same thing as picking up groceries on a supermarket shelf.”

In a recent seminar at Fiocruz Minas Gerais state, a research institution specializing in biological sciences and based in Rio de Janeiro, with branches in nine other states, Eliane Novato, a researcher at the department of biochemistry and immunology at the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG), said that “The impact [of pesticides] on health is often complicated to measure [in the field] because there are several factors that go into the relationship [to] ‘exposure-damage.’ High concentrations of toxic product for a short time have an immediate [health] effect, but low concentrations for a long time have a late, cumulative effect that is difficult to assess.”

She notes that it is not uncommon to find children accompanying their parents into sprayed plantation fields, and yet the risk of regular exposure by children to agricultural pesticides is rarely considered.

And yet, data published by the National System of Toxic-Pharmacological Information (Sinitox), linked to the Ministry of Health and Fiocruz, showed that 25.3 percent of pesticide poisonings reported between 1999 and 2015 occurred in children nine years old or younger, or 50,969 intoxications out of 201,832 cases. Of the children’s subgroup, 160 deaths occurred in the same period.

Sinitox breaks down pesticide poisoning into three subgroups, agricultural pesticides, domestic-use pesticides, veterinary products and rodenticides. In 2015, for example, more than 33 percent of all pesticide poisonings occurred in children up to nine years old ­– 2,196 out of 6,591 cases. Of the children’s subgroup, 259 cases were caused by agricultural pesticides, 945 by household pesticides (insecticides, gardening products, repellents etc.), 379 by veterinary products and 613 by rodenticides. It’s important to realize that the Sinitox numbers are incomplete because they cover primarily acute cases, in just 18 of the 26 Brazilian states.

The safe application of pesticides is critical to protecting public health, but experts argue that Brazil offers little oversight of use training and education. Photo by Eric Akaoka Flickr Creative Commons

Sonia Hess, a Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC) chemistry professor, told Mongabay that cancer is already the second leading cause of death in Brazil, surpassed only by cardiovascular diseases. The number of deaths has increased 31 percent since 2000 and totaled 223,400 Brazilians annually by 2015, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). How many of these cases are related to exposure to carcinogenic chemical pesticides is uncertain, though researchers are concerned.

“Unfortunately, there is always a long period between scientific evidence of health harm and the ban of these substances,” said Hess. “Remember thalidomide,” an approved drug that resulted in severe birth defects. “DDT is banned in more than 40 countries, including Brazil and the U.S.,” she added, but recognizing its environmental impacts and outlawing it required years.

“For those who study the subject, there is no question that cancer is an environmental epidemic resulting from exposure to toxic substances present in the water, air, food, cosmetics, [and more]… But the reaction to the problem runs counter to the power of the chemical industry, which controls governments around the world. We will continue to count the sick and the dead until the disaster becomes so evident that some reaction can be successful,” leading to more proactive regulation, Hess concluded.

WHAT A PEST Bedbugs ‘increase your risk of allergic reactions and deadly asthma attacks’ even after they are gone

By Andrea Downey, Digital Health Reporter

BEDBUGS are a nasty pest that no one wants in their house.

But even when they are gone they leave traces behind that can cause allergic reactions and even asthma attacks, new research suggest.

Not only do the creepy crawlies bite you while you’re sleeping, they also poop in your bed.

It’s that poop that causes problems long after pest control has been.

The poo is loaded with histamine, a chemical found naturally in your body during allergic reactions.

It is histamine that causes your runny nose, itchy eyes, sneezing and trouble breathing.

The chemical can also cause nasty rashes to appear on your skin and is particularly dangerous for those with underlying lung conditions like asthma because it causes an inflammatory response in your airways.

This can trigger potentially deadly asthma attacks if people are exposed to the chemical.

According to a new study from North Carolina State University histamine levels in bedbug infested homes were at least 20 times higher than in homes that were bug free.

And the levels continue to pose a problem for months after the bedbugs have been booted out.

In homes that were treated for the pests ,which involves circulating air as hot as 50C through the home, levels remained high.

“The intimate association of bed bugs with humans and the spatial distribution and persistence of histamine in homes suggest that histamine may represent an emergent indoor environmental contaminant whose impact on human health should be investigated,” the authors wrote.

“Bed bugs have become a major social, economic, and health problem since their global resurgence in the early 2000s.

BEAT THE BLOOD SUCKERS How to get rid of bed bugs, what causes an infestation and how to treat bites 

“Infestations can reach exceedingly high levels, especially among the elderly and in disadvantaged communities, where interventions may be unaffordable.

“While bed bug bites have been recognised as a dermatological concern that can be exacerbated and lead to secondary infections, bed bugs have not been implicated as disease vectors or allergen producers.

“The results of this study demonstrate that the presence of bed bugs strongly correlates with histamine levels in homes, and thus may adversely affect the health of residents through exposure to exogenous histamine.”

Experts tested 30 apartments in North Carolina as part of the study, some of which were currently infested, some had never been affected and some were treated for bedbugs recently.

The study was published in the journal PLOS One.

KEN MIDKIFF: Does Roundup cause cancer? Monsanto’s keeping it a secret


When I was a pre-teenager, my summer job was that of a post-emergent weed killer. What that involved was walking in the hot sun through seemingly endless soybean fields and chopping buttonweed, cockleburr and foxtail plants. Given the rotation of crops, soybean fields were usually preceded by corn, so what I mostly chopped was “volunteer corn.” The only respite was when the fields were too wet and muddy to walk through. Threatening clouds were a welcome sight.

For my lonely and hot work, I was paid a dollar an hour. So not only were the farmers who hired in violation of child labor laws, chances are they were also in violation of minimum wage laws. To my childhood wallet, that meant eight dollars per day or $40 per week.

But, for what I consider piles of money, I was not a carcinogen. Walking those endless field chopping down undesirable plants did not involve causing cancer.

Enter glyphosate. Otherwise known by the Monsanto-branded name as Roundup. It is a pre-emergent herbicide, killing all plant seeds that have not been genetically modified to withstand its killing ways. The main crop that it is applied to is soybeans. Roundup took the place of all those rural pre-teenagers who walked down rows of soybeans chopping out corn and other non-soybean plants.


A farmer friend who detests Genetically modified organisms wanted nothing to do with Roundup-ready soybean seeds, so the set out to locate soybean seeds that were not ready for glyphosate. After weeks of searching, he finally succeeded, but he learned that most farm retail outlets sold only Roundup-ready soybean seeds.

What is at risk now is not only health-related matters, but continuous U.S. funding for the World Health Organization , specifically its International Agency for Research on Cancer. The IARC, after reviewing many research studies, concluded that glyphosate causes an increase in breast cancer.


Other studies contradicted that conclusion, contending that IARC “cherrypicked,” by only reviewing studies that supported the conclusion that was reached.


The threat to remove U.S. funding for IARC is not an idle one. The chair of the U.S. House committee that oversees such things — the House Science Committee — is headed up by Lamar Smith, a Republican from Texas. Smith’s committee recently held a hearing on this issue, and heard from, among others, a representative from the pesticide industry. Those opposed to listing glyphosate as a carcinogen apparently persuaded a majority of the House Science Committee. (As best as I can tell, the job of the House Science Committee is to badmouth science and dismiss scientific findings.) A Monsanto spokesman (note the gender) expressed pleasure.


So, does Roundup cause increased levels of breast cancer? The answer to that depends on whether one believes the WHO/IARC or a spokesman for the pesticide industry.



Ken Midkiff

Ken Midkiff, formerly the director of the Sierra Club Clean Water Campaign, is now chair the city’s Environment and Energy Commission and serves on the board of directors of the Great Rivers Environmental Law Center.


Bed Bugs Found To Poop Chemical Making Humans Sick


Bed bugs are more dangerous to human health than previously thought. Besides their nasty bites, the feces of these tiny parasites could trigger a severe allergic reaction even after they are exterminated.

This lasting effect is due to raised levels of an organic compound present in the insect’s poop known as histamine. Those who regularly pop allergy pills are certainly familiar with the name.

The chemical is not all that bad. In fact, it is naturally produced by the human body as a response to harmful pathogens or to repair damaged cells.

Histamine exposure, however, is an entirely different story. Upon skin contact or inhalation, it can cause a variety of health problems ranging from rashes to respiratory disorders.

Such findings were uncovered by a group of researchers at North Carolina State University as they investigated pest-free and infested homes.

In a paper published Feb. 12 in Plos One, they report that histamine levels are significantly higher in infested homes and persistent in pest-free ones, with elevated levels lasting for months.

The groundbreaking study was conducted in an apartment complex in Raleigh with a chronic bed bug infestation.

Dust samples were collected from specific units prior heat treatment of the facility. Three months after the blood-sucking insects were eliminated by increasing indoor temperature to 50 degrees Celsius, researchers obtained another set of samples.

Histamine levels in the two sample groups were then compared with a third’s coming from nearby homes which have been declared pest-free for a minimum of three years.

Based on lab results, the researchers concluded that heat treatment may eliminate bed bugs but not the histamine they produce. Apparently, the chemical has the ability to withstand raised temperatures as evidenced by increased levels even when the apartments were already pest-free for months.

According to one of the researchers Zachary DeVries, heat treatment should be coupled with meticulous cleaning to minimize the amount of dust, which carries bed bug feces.

“We’ll also further investigate the effects of histamine in an indoor environment, including chronic exposure to histamine at low levels,” he says in a report.

The bed bugs excrete poop that is naturally rich in histamine content to mark locations they deem as suitable for aggregation. This explains why bed bugs tend to gather in a specific spot when they invade a home. Among their favorite choices is the bedroom, where they can easily feed on the blood of sleeping humans.

A previous research published in the Wiley Online Library two years ago also found histamine in cuticles shed by the insects after enjoying a blood meal.