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Pesticides: health effects

Pesticide poisoning? Let insects worry about it, right? Well, not quite. Countless tons of pesticides thrown on crops for over half century have penetrated the soil, waters, air, and - you guessed - the food chain. Pesticides have become a global contaminant. Clouds of DDT from malaria-stricken areas of Africa are carried by wind

to rain down on the American soil,

as if we don't already have enough. Antarctic penguins have measurable amounts of pesticides, and so do polar bears - how well can we expect to fare? What are the consequences of so widely spread environmental contamination?

No one gave to it much of a thought until Rachel Carson first brought to public attention that pesticides can and do hurt other forms of life, including humans (Silent Spring, 1962). Despite fierce attacks by pesticide manufacturers, their protégés and others who were profiting from wide, uncontrolled use of pesticides, the truth prevailed. Newly raised public environmental awareness lead to the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Non-biodegradable pesticides and other pollutants effect the environment by accumulating in soil, air and waters, and penetrating the food chain from the bottom up. Through the phenomenon called "bio-magnification", toxic contaminants concentrate exponentially toward the top of food chain.

For instance, after contamination of the Clear Lake in California with DDD (the DDT metabolite) back in 1980s, recorded DDD levels went from 0.02ppm (parts per million, or milligrams per gram) in the water, to 5.3ppm in the lake's plankton, 10ppm in small fish, 1700ppm in predatory fish and 1600ppm in predatory birds.

Five years later, predatory birds still had 2000ppm of the insecticide in their bodies4.

I don't know about you, but it makes me feel a bit uncomfortable in the shoes of the top planet's predator.

Every single day, we are consuming trace amounts of pesticides, insecticides, fungicides, herbicides and rodenticides from the food we eat and water we drink. Even organic food and filtered water are not quite free from them, but so called "conventional" foods can be unpredictably dangerous.

Apparently, we still think that we can take it (or simply don't think). Degree of exposure to pesticides can vary significantly, and so can individual resistance level. Folks with compromised liver or kidney function can be

tens and hundreds times more vulnerable to a pesticide -
and any other toxin

than the average person. The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) does state that pesticides and other bio-destructive chemicals used to protect crops and food can cause life-threatening diseases. But when it comes to determining safe levels for these chemicals, the basis are acute toxicity on laboratory rodents, recorded poisonings and empirical estimates extrapolated from short-term observations.

Neither pesticides nor other bio-destructive chemicals present in foods in trace amounts

have not been specifically tested, or studied for their long-term adverse health effects on humans.

Such effects are, in fact, unknown, and so are the cumulative effects of many possible combinations of different bio-destructive and other foreign chemicals (a single product, like apple or broccoli, can be sprayed with anywhere from dozens, up to over a hundred different pesticides7).

Despite no one being able to tell what are long-term degenerative, carcinogenic, mutagenic or behavioral effects of these bio-destructive chemicals on the general population, much less on an individual, we continue to use them very extensively.

That puts everyone at risk.

In the general population, most vulnerable, as always, are children and babies. In many cases of acute pesticide poisoning, where adults only suffered sickness or no clear symptoms at all, babies were born dead, deformed or with some other life-long physical or mental affliction. It doesn't get safer for the babies after birth either. Pesticide residues are found in the breast milk of Inuit women in north of Canada; what to expect here, closer to home?

As far back as 1967, Britain's food regulation committee reluctantly decided against zero tolerance for aldrin and dieldrin (organochlorine pesticides) in milk and baby foods. The only reason was that

it was impossible to produce non-contaminated foods.

Not even for the babies.

And by no means are healthy adults safe. What is perfidious about health effect of pesticides - and other low level non- and slow-degradable eco-toxins - is that they slowly accumulate over long periods of time, without causing clear symptoms. But they silently erode body's functions, and when the symptoms finally show, the damage is already done.

While most people tend to think that pesticides are found primarily on foods of plant origin, meats (including chicken), cheese and eggs are just as much - or even more - likely to be pesticide-contaminated4,7.

Long-term exposure to low-level pesticide residues can result in genetic damage, possibly causing cancer or any other disease, birth defects, various forms of gender dysfunction (infertility, impotence, trans-gender behavior), physical and mental retardation in children, and so on.

Even if you are among those few who test for their pesticide levels (which is rather a formality, since you can be assured of being contaminated), you still don't know where you stand. First off, so called "safe" levels for the general population - even if correct (and that's a BIG "if") -

may not be safe for you.

Secondly, what you have in your blood or urine is only a fraction of the pesticide concentration that you have in your fat tissue, or the "target" organ. Some poor rodents have (involuntarily) helped us to learn that pesticide concentration in the liver can be easily tens of times higher than in the blood, and hundreds of times higher in body's fat tissues.

How about "safe" pesticides, those used in schools, homes and offices? While organophosphates are more biodegradable than organochlorines (DDT, aldrine, 2,4-D, 2,4,5-T, lindane, and others), and some of them are readily detoxified by healthy individuals, some others - like Dursban, or chlorpyrifos, that comes under various brand names: Raid Home Insect Killer, Ortho-B Flea Gon, D-Con Home Pest Control Killer, etc. - are well documented as toxic to humans, causing multitude of symptoms, from brain fog, chemical sensitivity and depression, to genetic damage, immune system suppression, nerve damage and, possible, even cancer9.

Main difficulty in determining specific pesticide toxicity, other than lack of interest on the side of those who should be doing it, is their long "incubation" period. It may take decades for a disease to develop, and mutagenic effects may show in the second or third generation.

 Without doubt, there is more than enough reason to minimize your pesticide exposure. You can do that through your food choices - organic and "pesticide-free" - use of water filter removing pesticide residues, use of alternative (natural) pesticides, and avoiding contaminated areas. Also, by helping your body to lessen the level of pesticides accumulated in your body with nutrients it needs for detoxication, as well as with some form of a regular body detox routine.

By the way, be careful on the golf course. On the average, golf courses have significantly higher pesticide levels than farm fields.