New Study Suggests Even the Toughest Pesticide Regulations Aren’t Nearly Tough Enough

As in most states, regulators in California measure the effect of only one pesticide at a time. But farmers often use several pesticides together—and that’s a big, toxic problem.

“Acting together, these effects multiply. So even pesticides that don’t cause cancer on their own might do so together by interfering with or overwhelming the body’s ability to clear toxic substances, or harming DNA and then blocking mechanisms to repair it.”

February 23, 2016 | by Liza Gross | The Nation

California officials have long touted their pesticide regulations as the toughest in the nation. But a new report from the University of California, Los Angeles, reveals a major flaw in the state’s approach to evaluating safety, one that has broad implications for the way pesticides are regulated nationally: Regulators assess pesticide safety one product at a time, but growers often apply pesticides as mixtures. That’s a serious problem, the authors argue, because pesticide interactions can ratchet up toxic effects, greatly enhancing the risk of cancer and other serious health conditions.

“The federal EPA and California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) have not adequately dealt with interactive effects,” says John Froines, a report coauthor and a chemist with decades of experience assessing health risks of toxic chemicals as a scientist and regulator. “People are exposed to a large number of chemicals. You can’t simply look chemical by chemical to adequately address the toxicity of these compounds.”

Fumigants, used to combat a range of pests and diseases, are among the most toxic chemicals used in agriculture. They are a staple of high-value crops like tomatoes and strawberries. Studies in humans and animals have linked them to acute respiratory and skin damage and serious chronic health problems, including cancer and neurological and reproductive disorders.

To get around the state’s failure to collect data on cumulative exposures to these fumigants, Froines and his colleagues drew on what’s known about the chemical and biological properties of three of the most heavily used fumigants in California: chloropicrin, Telone (the trade name for 1,3-dichloropropene), and metam sodium.

Individual fumigants are highly reactive chemicals that damage DNA and interfere with proteins that perform critical cell functions. Acting together, these effects multiply. So even pesticides that don’t cause cancer on their own might do so together by interfering with or overwhelming the body’s ability to clear toxic substances, or harming DNA and then blocking mechanisms to repair it.

These interactive effects would not be detected in studies of individual pesticides.

Pesticide regulators are aware of the report, says California DPR spokesperson Charlotte Fadipe, but adds that the agency rarely comments on such studies because “the information often lacks the extensive rigorous science for a regulatory department to make regulations.” What’s more, she notes, “DPR has the most protective and robust pesticide program in the country.”

Froines, who served as director of the Office of Toxic Substances at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration under President Jimmy Carter and has led several scientific review panels at the state’s request to assess chemical toxicity, has revealed flaws in pesticide regulations before. In 2010, he headed a California scientific review panel that deemed chloropicrin—one of the fumigants studied in the current report—a “potent carcinogen.” State officials ignored the panel’s advice and decided the evidence was ambiguous. The same year, he chaired another review panel that called the fumigant methyl iodide a “highly toxic chemical” that poses a serious threat to public health. This time, manufacturers withdrew the product from the market.

With few restrictions on combining pesticides, growers often use multiple-chemical formulations or apply different fumigants to adjoining fields or in close succession. That exposes people who live, work, and go to school near these fields to several fumigants at once, despite growing evidence that these chemical concoctions pose even greater health risks.

As reported by the Food & Environment Reporting Network and The Nation last April, residents of Oxnard, a strawberry-growing stronghold in Southern California where most residents are Latino, had worried for years about the risks of heavy exposure to fumigants.

Rio Mesa High School students were twice as likely as white kids to go to schools near heavy fumigant use. And though regulators admitted as much in addressing a complaint filed by several parents, they did little to restrict fumigant use near schools. In fact, the year after EPA officials dismissed the families’ complaint, growers dramatically increased their use of toxic fumigants around Rio Mesa.

Less than a month after the Nation story ran, the Department of Pesticide Regulation announced it would revisit restrictions on pesticide use near schools after seeking public input through statewide workshops. Officials promised to deliver new rules last December, then pushed back the date, saying they hadn’t reviewed all the public comments. DPR spokesperson Fadipe says they’re still working on draft regulations but can’t say for sure when they’ll issue the draft rules.

The UCLA report shows that going to school at Rio Mesa still poses a health risk. The authors used standard EPA air dispersion models and pesticide use data collected by state regulators to simulate likely fumigant dispersion patterns around the school. They chose Rio Mesa in part because an on-site air monitor shows that fumigants are escaping into the air. As expected, their modeling results show that overlapping exposures occur at Rio Mesa—two years after EPA dismissed community concerns—and at other locations, including schools and daycare centers.

These results underscore the importance of establishing no-spray zones around schools and other sensitive sites as soon as possible, activists say.

“This new report on fumigants is a stark reminder that regulatory agencies have largely failed to regulate toxic chemicals,” says Bruce Lanphear, professor of health sciences at Simon Fraser University and an expert on the impacts of toxic exposures on the developing brain who was not involved in the report. “We are all exposed to a cocktail of dozens, if not hundreds of chemicals, which can have similar detoxification mechanisms and modes of action.”

Regulators must consider synergistic effects of pesticides in risk assessments, the authors say. They contend that a California law requires state agencies to consider cumulative impacts and that interactive effects from pesticides fall under that law. They urge state officials to make several changes to pesticide regulations to uphold their mission to protect public health.

#SayNOtoPESTICIDES!

Alex Morgan Rips Women’s Soccer League For BedBug-Ridden Hotels

BedBugs lead to extreme measures for the National Women’s Soccer League.

Associated Press

August 18, 2015 | by Maxwell Strachan | The Huffington Post

Alex Morgan is back to playing with the Portland Thorns FC of the National Women’s Soccer League after the Women’s World Cup, and she’s apparently already tired of the lodging that the league offers.

In a tweet on Monday, Morgan directly called out the NWSL by adding their handle and saying, “there’s no other way to address continuing problems. Hotels have been unacceptable. For ex. :Bed bugs/mold @ Adams Mark Hotel in KC.” 

Google

While the tweet has since been deleted, it remains cached on Google. Morgan has not added an update saying her account has been hacked, and a similar tweet by teammate Christine Sinclair would appear to verify that the tweet is, in fact, Morgan’s.

As For The Win notes, the league’s operations manual indicates that home teams must provide away teams with rooms at a 3-star hotel. And while Adam’s Mark Hotel might technically qualify, it’s 1.9 rating leaves something to be desired.

Google

Since it’s the home team providing the hotel rooms, it’s fair to wonder whether FC Kansas City deserves some blame here. But the larger issue is one of gender inequity. Morgan has spent months and months thinking about all the ways FIFA treats the men better than the women at their respective World Cups.

Now she’s back to playing in a league with a minimum salary way below the poverty line and maximum salaries not much better than that. If you were in her situation and you suddenly realized your hotel room had bedbugs, wouldn’t that be the last straw for you, too?

#SayNOtoPESTICIDES!

Pesticides: physical signs of poisoning by pyrethrin deltamethrin

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The following information is posted on the website of Cornell University Cooperative Extension’s Pesticide Management Education Program.

“Physical signs of deltamethrin poisoning can include dermatitis after skin contact; exposure to sunlight can make it worse. Severe swelling of the face including lips and eyelids can occur.  Symptoms and consequences of poisoning include:  sweating, fever, anxiety and rapid heartbeat.

Acute exposure effects in humans include the following: ataxia, convulsions leading to muscle fibrillation and paralysis, dermatitis, edema, diarrhea, dyspnea, headache, hepatic microsomal enzyme induction, irritability, peripheral vascular collapse, rhinorrhea, serum alkaline phosphatase elevation, tinnitus, tremors, vomiting and death due to respiratory failure. Allergic reactions have included the following effects: anaphylaxis, bronchospasm, eosinophilia, fever, hypersensitivity pneumonia, pallor, pollinosis, sweating, sudden swelling of the face, eyelids, lips and mucous membranes, and tachycardia.

A health survey of 199 workers who repacked pyrethroid insecticides into boxes by hand indicated that about two-thirds of the workers had a burning sensation and tightness and numbness on the face, while one-third had sniffs and sneezes.  Abnormal sensations in the face, dizziness, tiredness and red rashes on the skin were more common in summer than in winter.”

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Why would we ever want to use something as stealthy as deltamethrin in public areas? Most of the products found on the shelves of local hardware stores use products that contain a number of inert ingredients as well as the active ingredient.  The inert ingredients aren’t required to be listed (trade secrets, or so they say) on the label and many of them are untested.  Also, many have been tested and are suspected carcinogens.  We don’t know which inert ingredients are in the products used for pest control items found commonly at local hardware stores.

#SayNOtoPesticides!

The Forgotten Era: When Bed Bugs Were Tested for Combat in Vietnam

The Forgotten Era: When Bed Bugs Were Tested for Combat in Vietnam

Brooke Borel | April 27, 2015 | Gizmodo

In 2004, Brooke Borel got bed bugs in New York. Then she experienced them again in 2009—twice in two different apartments. Because of those experiences, which were part of a widespread bed bug resurgence in the US, Borel, a science journalist, decided to explore why the bugs were back.

This excerpt is one of many stories from her new book:

In 1965 at the Limited War Laboratory in Aberdeen, Maryland, army entomologists were testing bed bugs for combat. The Vietnam War had escalated on the other side of the world, and the Vietcong were putting up a more impressive fight than the Americans and their allies had expected. The enemy’s familiarity with the jungle made it easy to ambush US soldiers; the army was thus desperate to flush the guerillas out.

The Americans stripped the leafy jungle greens with Agent Orange and other defoliants so that the trees could no longer conceal an attack, and they trained German shepherds to sniff out hidden enemies sneaking through the ruined forest remains. But the researchers at Aberdeen thought that the bed bug might be a more versatile lookout. Compared to dogs, insects were easier to transport, required less care and attention, and needed no training.

Bed bugs are also naturally attracted to humans. The scientists wanted to exploit this tendency, whether in this species or a short list of other bloodsuckers, to see if they could detect the heat coming off of an enemy’s body or the carbon dioxide from his breath. In addition to the bed bug, the contenders included an unnamed species of lice; Xenopsylla cheopis, the Oriental rat flea; Amblyomma americanum, the lone star tick; three mosquito species; and Triatoma infestans, the kissing bug and most infamous carrier of Chagas disease.

The scientists put each species through a series of tests to observe how the insects acted when a person was nearby and to see whether that action could be converted into a warning signal. Lice were ruled out early because their aimless crawls didn’t change when a person was nearby. The fleas did notice the presence of a person, but they became so excited when they smelled a potential meal that they tapped like kernels of popcorn against a metal detection chamber and took too long to settle back down, which meant they were sensors that couldn’t reset. The soft feet of the tick made no discernible noise even after the researchers hung weights from the arthropods’ legs in hopes that the additional heft might audibly scrape across a detector’s surface.

In tests on one species of mosquito, the insects responded by probing a screened, skin-like membrane, thinking it was food whenever the researchers wafted in a human scent. A phonograph pickup, the same device that captures the vibration from the strum of an electric guitar and converts it to an electrical signal, connected to the membrane and converted the action of each wishful bite so it resonated like a plucked guitar string. And the kissing bug, a distant cousin of the bed bug, made a raucous noise with each of its footsteps, which was promising.

Both adult and nymph bed bugs sprung to attention when a meal was nearby, but only the younger bugs reacted strongly enough in initial tests to warrant the construction of a complex sensor. The researchers made one from a coiled spring of piano wire connected to a phono pickup. Just as the mosquitoes bit the fake skin in their detector, the bed bug nymphs shimmied across the piano wire, triggered it, and produced a sound. But when the wires, the bugs, and the pickup were put in a portable container—a small mesh envelope—the sound was too muffled to hear. The intrepid scientists built a chamber of fine steel wool and put the bugs and the detector inside. This helped, but the device still was not good enough to be useful on the battlefield. None of the other insect finalists that the army entomologists tested worked out, either, and the project was abandoned.

That the bed bug was included in the Aberdeen research in the sixties was unusual— as the bed bug faded from homes and our collective memory, it also became less common in the laboratory. In the decades leading up to World War II, scientists had mainly tried to understand the bugs’ basic biology, whether they were a health threat, and how to kill them. Both during and directly after the war, the research slanted toward pest control through experiments using DDT and other poisons.

The Forgotten Era: When Bed Bugs Were Tested for Combat in Vietnam

Illustration of proposed insect ambush detector from the US Army. Credit: Clyde Barnhart, courtesy of the Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.

By the late fifties, just after DDT’s initial deluge, the scientists’ interest dipped for about a decade, corresponding with the decimation of the bug. In the years that followed, what little research there was came from the developing world, where the pest was still a problem: countries in Africa and Asia, or institutions including the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, which often operated in those regions. Just a handful of studies were published each year. Many looked at the tropical bed bug rather than the common one, and most of the work focused on public health, pesticide effectiveness, or, as bed bugs evolved to withstand DDT and its cousins, pesticide resistance. The research on the latter grew in the decades following the war, for even DDT couldn’t completely destroy what nature had perfected over millennia, and thus bed bugs hadn’t disappeared entirely.

Four years after the Americans and the Brits added DDT to their wartime supply lists, scientists found bed bugs resistant to the insecticide in Pearl Harbor barracks. More resistant bed bugs soon showed up in Japan, Korea, Iran, Israel, French Guiana, and Columbus, Ohio. In 1958 James Busvine of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine showed DDT resistance in bed bugs as well as cross- resistance to several similar pesticides, including a tenfold increase in resistance to a common organic one called pyrethrin. In 1964 scientists tested bed bugs that had proven resistant five years prior but had not been exposed to any insecticides since. The bugs still defied the DDT.

Soon there was a long list of other insect and arachnid with an increasing immunity to DDT: lice, mosquitoes, house flies, fruit flies, cockroaches, ticks, and the tropical bed bug. In 1969 one entomology professor would write of the trend: “The events of the past 25 years have taught us that virtually any chemical control method we have devised for insects is eventually destined to become obsolete, and that insect control can never be static but must be in a dynamic state of constant evolution.” In other words, in the race between chemical and insect, the insects always pull ahead.

Top image: AP

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