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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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"Faced with global warming, rising sea levels, and the climate-related extremes they intensify, the question is no longer whether some communities will retreat—moving people and assets out of harm's way—but why, where, when, and how they will retreat," the study begins.

The researchers suggest that it is time to rethink retreat, which is often seen as a last resort and a sign of weakness. Instead, it should be seen as the smart option and an opportunity to build new communities.

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Dr. Siders pointed out that it has happened before. She noted that in the 1970s, the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved itself out of the flood plain after one too many floods. The community found and reoriented the business district to take advantage of highway traffic and powered it entirely with solar energy, as the New York Times reported.

That's an important lesson now that rising sea levels pose a catastrophic risk around the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world's cities are along shorelines. In the U.S. alone coastline communities make up nearly 40 percent of the population— more than 123 million people, which is why Siders and her research team are so forthright about the urgency and the complexities of their findings, according to Harvard Magazine.

Some of those complexities include, coordinating moves across city, state or even international lines; cultural and social considerations like the importance of burial grounds or ancestral lands; reparations for losses or damage to historic practices; long-term social and psychological consequences; financial incentives that often contradict environmental imperatives; and the critical importance of managing retreat in a way that protects vulnerable and poor populations and that doesn't exacerbate past injustices, as Harvard Magazine reported.

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"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."

To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.


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