Today’s Menu: Pesticide Salad, Leaded Fish with Plastic, Chemical Fruit

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Credit: UN Environment.

MADRID, Jul 10 2019 (IPS) – In case you were not aware or just do not remember: all you eat, drink, breathe, wear, take as a medicine, the cosmetics you use, the walls of your house, among others, is full of chemicals. And all is really ALL.

For instance, in your bathroom, formaldehyde often sits in your shampoo, microbeads in your toothpaste, phthalates in your nail polish and antimicrobials in your soaps, while your medicine cabinet contains a myriad of synthetic pharmaceuticals.

In your kitchen, a juicy strawberry may carry traces of up to 20 different pesticides.

The size of the global chemical industry exceeded 5 trillion dollars in 2017. It is projected to double by 2030. Consumption and production are rapidly increasing in emerging economies.

And the perfumed bin-liners and air fresheners contain volatile organic compounds that can make you nauseous and give you a headache. And the list goes on…

Who tells all these and many other shocking facts is one of the top world organisations dealing with the sources and dangers of pollution and contamination – the UN Environment, which on 29 April 2019 released its Global Chemicals Outlook.

Chemicals, chemicals, chemicals everywhere

See what Tanzanian microbiologist and environmental scientist Joyce Msuya, the Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, said in her introduction to this report:

“Chemicals are part of our everyday lives. From pharmaceuticals to plant protection, innovations in chemistry can improve our health, food security and much more. However, if poorly used and managed, hazardous chemicals and waste threaten human health and the environment.

“As the second Global Chemicals Outlook lays out, global trends such as population dynamics, urbanisation and economic growth are rapidly increasing chemical use, particularly in emerging economies.

“In 2017, the industry was worth more than 5 trillion dollars. By 2030, this will double.

“Large quantities of hazardous chemicals and pollutants continue to leak into the environment, contaminating food chains and accumulating in our bodies, where they do serious damage.

“Estimates by the European Environment Agency suggest that 62 per cent of the volume of chemicals consumed in Europe in 2016 were hazardous to health.

“The World Health Organization estimates the burden of disease from selected chemicals at 1.6 million lives in 2016. The lives of many more are negatively impacted…”

Referring to the agreed objective that, by 2020, chemicals will be produced and used in ways that minimise significant adverse effects on the environment and human health, Joyce Msuya warned “At our current pace, we will not achieve the goal.”

Key findings

The following are three key findings included in the report, among many others.

One is that the size of the global chemical industry exceeded 5 trillion dollars in 2017. It is projected to double by 2030. Consumption and production are rapidly increasing in emerging economies. Global supply chains, and the trade of chemicals and products, are becoming increasingly complex.

Another one is that, driven by global mega-trends, growth in chemical-intensive industry sectors (e.g. construction, agriculture, electronics) creates risks, but also opportunities to advance sustainable consumption, production and product innovation.

And a third one is that hazardous chemicals and other pollutants (e.g. plastic waste and pharmaceutical pollutants) continue to be released in large quantities. They are ubiquitous in humans and the environment and are accumulating in material stocks and products, highlighting the need to avoid future legacies through sustainable materials management and circular business models.

The Global Chemicals Outlook covers three broad inter-linked areas building upon the findings of existing and concurrent studies:

Production, trade, use and disposal of chemicals

Both the continuous growth trends and the changes in global production, trade and use of chemicals point towards an increasing chemical intensification of the economy.

This chemical intensification of the economy derives largely from several factors, such as the increased volume and a shift of production and use from highly industrialised countries to developing countries and countries in economic transition.

Another factor is the penetration of chemical intensive products into national economies through globalisation of sales and use.

Then there are the increased chemical emissions resulting from major economic development sectors.

According to the report, products of the chemical industry that are increasingly replacing natural materials in both industrial and commercial products.

Thus, petrochemical lubricants, coatings, adhesives, inks, dyes, creams, gels, soaps, detergents, fragrances and plastics are replacing conventional plant, animal and ceramic based products.

Industries and research institutions which are increasingly developing sophisticated and novel nano-scale chemicals and synthetic halogenated compounds that are creating new functions such as durable, non-stick, stain resistant, fire retardant, water-resistant, non-corrosive surfaces, and metallic, conductive compounds that are central to integrated circuits used in cars, cell phones, and computers.

Penetration of chemical intensive products 

The Global Outlook also informs that many countries are primarily importers of chemicals and are not significant producers. Agricultural chemicals and pesticides used in farming were among the first synthetic chemicals to be actively exported to developing countries.

Today, as consumption of a wide range of products increases over time, these products themselves become a significant vehicle increasing the presence of chemicals in developing and transition economies, the report explains, adding the following information:

  • These include liquid chemical personal care products for sale directly to consumers; paints, adhesives and lubricants; as well as chemically complex articles ranging from textiles and electronics, to building materials and toys. Emissions from products pose different management challenges from those associated with manufacturing, as   they are diffused throughout the economy, rather than being concentrated at manufacturing facilities.
  • Trade in articles has been identified as a significant driver of global transport of lead, cadmium, mercury and brominated flame retardants.
  • It is often the case that electrical and electronic equipment, which contain hazardous or toxic substances, are purchased in developed countries before being disposed of or recycled in unsafe and unprotected conditions in developing states or countries with economies in transition.
  • Products such as cell phones and laptops are being purchased and used in regions of the world recently thought to be too remote.
  • Increasing consumer demand for electrical/electronic goods and materials, along with rapid technology change and the high obsolescence rate of these items have led to the increasing generation of large quantities of obsolete and near end of life electronic products.
  • These trends contribute to global electronic waste generation estimated at 40 million tons per year.

Chemical contamination and waste associated with industrial sectors of importance in developing countries include: pesticides from agricultural runoff; heavy metals associated with cement production; dioxin associated with electronics recycling; mercury and other heavy metals associated with mining and coal combustion, explains the Global Outlook.

They also include: butyl tins, heavy metals, and asbestos released during ship breaking; heavy metals associated with tanneries; mutagenic dyes, heavy metals and other pollutants associated with textile production; toxic metals, solvents, polymers, and flame retardants used in electronics manufacturing, and  the direct exposure resulting from the long range transport of many chemicals through environmental media that deliver chemical pollutants which originate from sources thousands of kilometres away.

pesticida

Credit: UN Environment.

Health and environmental effects

According to the report:

  • Chemicals released to the air can act as air pollutants as well as greenhouse gases and ozone depleters and contribute to acid rain formation.
  • Chemicals can contaminate water resources through direct discharges to bodies of water, or via deposition of air contaminants to water. This contamination can have adverse effects on aquatic organisms, including fish, and on the availability of water resources for drinking, bathing, and other activities.
  • It is common for soil pollution to be a direct result of atmospheric deposition, dumping of waste, spills from industrial or waste facilities, mining activities, contaminated water, or pesticides.
  • Persistent and bio-accumulative chemicals are found as widespread contaminants in wildlife, especially those that are high in the food chain. Some of these chemicals cause cancers, immune system dysfunction, and reproductive disorders in wildlife.
  • In some countries, the runoff of pesticides and fertilisers from agricultural fields or the use of chemicals in mining in neighbouring countries, may leach into ground water, or run into estuaries shared across national boundaries.
  • Fisheries, an important source of protein and of economic value for populations around the world, can be severely affected by chemicals. Persistent organic pollutants can accumulate in fish, especially those high in the food chain. As a result, the value of this otherwise excellent protein source is diminished or lost completely.
  • Exposure to toxic chemicals can cause or contribute to a broad range of health outcomes. These include eye, skin, and respiratory irritation; damage to organs such as the brain, lungs, liver or kidneys; damage to the immune, respiratory, cardiovascular, nervous, reproductive or endocrine systems; and birth defects and chronic diseases, such as cancer, asthma, or diabetes.
  • Workers in industries using chemicals are especially vulnerable through exposure to toxic chemicals and related health effects.

These include an increased cancer rate in workers in electronics facilities; high blood lead levels among workers at lead-acid battery manufacturing and recycling plants; flame retardant exposures among workers in electronic waste recycling; mercury poisoning in small-scale gold miners; asbestosis among workers employed in asbestos mining and milling; and acute and chronic pesticide poisoning among workers in agriculture in many countries.

In spite of these and other immense negative impacts on health and the environment, the more than 400 scientists and experts around the world, who worked over three long years to prepare the Global Chemicals Outlook, underscore that the goal to minimise adverse impacts of chemicals and waste will not be achieved by 2020.

“Solutions exist,” the 400 world experts emphasise, “but more ambitious worldwide action by all stakeholders is urgently required.”

Will We Be Forced To Welcome Our Insecticide-Resistant Bed Bug Overlords?

Bed bugs

February 23, 2016 | by Keith Wagstaff | Forbes

Bad news for people who hate bed bugs. The insects are developing a resistance to widely used chemicals, according to a new study.

Researchers tested bed bugs taken from homes in Cincinnati and throughout Michigan, and found “high levels of resistance” to neonicotinoid insecticides.

Bed bugs were a big problem until the 1930s, when use of DDT kept them in check. Then came Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” in 1962 and concerns over the environmental and health effects of DTT.

Over the last few decades, thanks to the rise of international air travel and declines in the usage and effectiveness of DDT, bed bug infestations have exploded. In 2015, nearly every pest control professional (99.6 percent) had to deal with bed bugs. That is up from 25 percent in 2001, according to the National Pest Management Association. Neonicotinoids looked like at least one solution to the problem — until now.

“It’s a constant arms race,” Richard Pollack, an entomologist at the Harvard School of Public Health, told me in an interview. “We find something new, it works, and then they use Mother Nature’s laboratory to come up with ways to get around it.”

The resistance to neonicotinoids might be new, Pollack said, but it’s not unexpected. Insecticides can be incredibly effective for decades at a time. But if even a tiny percentage of bed bugs are resistant, they will survive and reproduce, eventually creating entire populations that can’t easily be killed off.

In the study, published recently in the Journal of Medical Entomology, researchers found that the bed bugs from Cincinnati and Michigan were far more resistant to four types of neonicotinoids (acetamiprid, dinotefuran, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam) than bed bugs raised in a colony maintained by entomologist Harold Harlan.

Thanks to the “detoxifying enzymes” their bodies produced, the bed bugs from Cincinnati and Michigan were 33,333 times more resistant to acetamiprid than the colony-raised bed bugs. They were more than a hundred times more resistant to the other neonicotinoids, as well.

So, should we simply welcome our new insect overlords and resign ourselves to waking up covered in itchy red bites?  Not so fast, according to Pollack.

“A lot of things bed bugs have become resistant to still work,” he said. In other words, if one pesticide doesn’t kill your bed bugs, pest control workers can just try several of them until one does the trick. Chances are the bed bugs in your home won’t be resistant to them all. There are other options out there too, like fumigation and applying extreme heat to a home. (Yes, houses have caught fire during heat treatments. Nobody said insecticide alternatives were perfect.)

To be clear, it’s not good that in some areas, human beings have one less weapon in their arsenal when it comes to killing bed bugs. But that doesn’t mean that people won’t develop new pesticides— potentially ones that are more effective and less toxic than old chemicals like DDT.

“We are in a free market economy,”Pollack said. “There is money to be made by developing new products.”

#SayNOtoPESTICIDES!

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!

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