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Entire Pesticide Class Must Be Banned to Save Children’s Health, Landmark Study Says

Health + Wellness
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A first-of-its-kind study has reviewed the data and concluded that an entire class of pesticides should be banned because of its impact on children's health, The Huffington Post reported.


The study, published in the journal PLOS Medicine on Wednesday, said that even low-levels of organophosphate exposure can cause brain damage in children. The news comes as Trump's U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is currently fighting a court order to ban just one of this class of toxic chemicals―the pesticide chlorpyrifos.

"We have compelling evidence from dozens of human studies that exposures of pregnant women to very low levels of organophosphate pesticides put children and foetuses at risk for developmental problems that may last a lifetime. By law, the EPA cannot ignore such clear findings: It's time for a ban not just on chlorpyrifos, but all organophosphate pesticides," study lead author and University of California, Davis Environmental Health Sciences Center Director Irva Hertz-Picciotto told The Guardian.

Children exposed to organophosphates in the womb have an increased risk for lowered IQ, reduced memory and attention and autism, the study found. To reach its conclusions, it drew on a UN database that includes 71 countries and cross referenced it with a wide variety of studies.

"We found no evidence of a safe level of organophosphate pesticide exposure for children. Well before birth, organophosphate pesticides are disrupting the brain in its earliest stages, putting them on track for difficulties in learning, memory and attention, effects which may not appear until they reach school-age. Government officials around the world need to listen to science, not chemical lobbyists," study author and Simon Fraser University scientist Bruce Lanphear told The Guardian.

More than 10,000 tonnes (approximately 11,023 U.S. tons) of these pesticides are sprayed in 24 European countries every year, and more in the U.S. U.S. regulators have already banned 26 of 40 organophosphates considered dangerous without much fanfare.

The use of organophosphates first expanded in the 1960s and 70s as they replaced DDT and other pesticides known to be toxic at the time, and the study's findings indicate the need for the agricultural sector to rethink its dependence on chemical weed and pest killers, The Huffington Post reported.

"It's a complicated answer, but the answer has to be moving toward using less and more targeted uses of these agrochemicals," study author and Natural Resources Defense Counsel scientist Jennifer Sass told The Huffington Post. "The agrochemical industry itself calls it plant medicine, so use it like medicine, use it only with prescription."

Before President Donald Trump took office, the EPA had moved to ban the use of one popular organophosphate, chlorpyrifos, on food crops. But former administrator Scott Pruitt abandoned those plans. In August, a federal court ordered the EPA to implement the ban, but the agency, now under the leadership of former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler, is appealing that decision.

"EPA has not yet reviewed this study," agency spokesperson Michael Abboud told The Huffington Post by email. "EPA's priority has always been using the best available science in the most transparent manner to make the best decisions in both the pesticides and toxics programs."

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Protestors marched outside the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey on Monday, August 26, during the MTV Video and Music Awards to bring attention to the water crisis currently gripping the city. Karla Ann Cote / NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Will Sarni

It is far too easy to view scarcity and poor quality of water as issues solely affecting emerging economies. While the images of women and children fetching water in Africa and a lack of access to water in India are deeply disturbing, this is not the complete picture.

The city of Flint, Michigan, where dangerous levels of pollutants contaminated the municipal water supply, is a case in point — as is, more recently, the city of Newark, New Jersey.

The Past is No Longer a Guide to the Future

We get ever closer to "day zeros" — the point at when municipal water supplies are switched off — and tragedies such as Flint. These are not isolated stories. Instead they are becoming routine, and the public sector and civil society are scrambling to address them. We are seeing "day zeros" in South Africa, India, Australia and elsewhere, and we are now detecting lead contamination in drinking water in cities across the U.S.

"Day zero" is the result of water planning by looking in the rear-view mirror. The past is no longer a guide to the future; water demand has outstripped supplies because we are tied to business-as-usual planning practices and water prices, and this goes hand-in-hand with the inability of the public sector to factor the impacts of climate change into long-term water planning. Lead in drinking water is the result of lead pipe service lines that have not been replaced and in many cases only recently identified by utilities, governments and customers. An estimated 22 million people in the US are potentially using lead water service lines. This aging infrastructure won't repair or replace itself.

One of the most troubling aspects of the global water crisis is that those least able to afford access to water are also the ones who pay a disproportionately high percentage of their income for it. A report by WaterAid revealed that a standard water bill in developed countries is as little as 0.1 percent of the income of someone earning the minimum wage, while in a country like Madagascar a person reliant on a tanker truck for their water supply would spend as much as 45 percent of their daily income on water to get just the recommended daily minimum supply. In Mozambique, families relying on black-market vendors will spend up to 100 times as much on water as those reached by government-subsidized water supplies.

Finally, we need to understand that the discussion of a projected gap between supply and demand is misleading. There is no gap, only poor choices around allocation. The wealthy will have access to water, and the poor will pay more for water of questionable quality. From Flint residents using bottled water and paying high water utility rates, to the poor in South Africa waiting in line for their allocation of water — inequity is everywhere.

Water Inequity Requires Global Action — Now.

These troubling scenarios beg the obvious question: What to do? We do know that ongoing reports on the 'water crisis' are not going to catalyze action to address water scarcity, poor quality, access and affordability. Ensuring the human right to water feels distant at times.

We need to mobilize an ecosystem of stakeholders to be fully engaged in developing and scaling solutions. The public sector, private sector, NGOs, entrepreneurs, investors, academics and civil society must all be engaged in solving water scarcity and quality problems. Each stakeholder brings unique skills, scale and speed of impact (for example, entrepreneurs are fast but lack scale, while conversely the public sector is slow but has scale).

We also urgently need to change how we talk about water. We consistently talk about droughts happening across the globe — but what we are really dealing with is an overallocation of water due to business-as-usual practices and the impacts of climate change.

We need to democratize access to water data and actionable information. Imagine providing anyone with a smartphone the ability to know, on a real-time basis, the quality of their drinking water and actions to secure safe water. Putting this information in the hands of civil society instead or solely relying on centralized regulatory agencies and utilities will change public policies.

Will Sarni is the founder and CEO of Water Foundry.

Note: This post also appears on the World Economic Forum.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Circle of Blue.

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