Health Professionals Demand Ban of Neurotoxic Chemical
As children settle into the new school year, health professionals are demanding that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ban the neurotoxic chemical chlorpyrifos—a pesticide used on farms throughout the country and the same chemical that the agency banned some ten years ago for use in homes.
In a letter submitted to the EPA Oct. 6, more than two dozen health professionals cite new science showing the health impacts of chlorpyrifos, including lowering IQs and an increased risk of ADHD and learning disabilities among children.
“EPA should follow the science and take this brain toxin completely off the market,” said Dr. David Carpenter, MD, director of the Institute for Health & The Environment, University at Albany. “Chlorpyrifos poses serious threats to children’s health and doesn’t belong in our homes, on our farms or on our cafeteria trays.”
The recent studies show that exposure to chlorpyrifos in the womb and in early childhood, during critical development windows, can lead to lasting effects on the brain. Researchers now say that as many as 25 percent of all U.S. children may have IQs several points lower due to eating foods treated with chlorpyrifos and similar pesticides.
“Fruits and vegetables are essential for healthy children but shouldn't be grown with chlorpyrifos,”said Ted Schettler, MD, MPH, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, and one of the letter’s signatories. “Children in rural communities face a double dose of this brain poison. They are exposed to chlorpyrifos drifting from neighboring fields, and again when the pesticide is on their food.”
Chlorpyrifos was banned for use in homes more than 10 years ago because of its potential harm to children. But 10 million pounds of chlorpyrifos are still used on agricultural fields each year. Air monitoring, biomonitoring and poisoning data confirm that extensive human exposure to chlorpyrifos is linked to its continued use in agriculture. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control,the vast majority of us—including children—carry breakdown products of the chemical in our bodies.
Children living in farm communities are at especially high risk. In addition to exposure from food, they may also be breathing in particles that drift into their classrooms and homes from nearby farms. Farmworker children are at an even higher risk as parents sometimes carry residues of the pesticide home at the end of the day on clothing and shoes.
“Chlorpyrifos drift poses serious threats to communities like mine,” said Luis Medellin, of the community organization El Quinto Sol de America. Luis grew up in homes next to farms using chlorpyrifos in California’s San Joaquin Valley. “The realities on the ground show that this brain toxin can’t be used safely and should not be used in the fields.”
At age 17, Medellin began using Pesticide Action Network’s drift catcher to document chemical drift from neighboring citrus fields, finding that a majority of samples contained chlorpyrifos. Residents also sampled chlorpyrifos in their urine, and all but one had levels above what the EPA considers acceptable.
In their letter to the EPA, health professionals demanded that they ban all uses of chlorpyrifos. They state:
We urge EPA to act now on the weight of scientific evidence of health harms of chlorpyrifos for children and fetuses. It is time that EPA take action to protect the public health and provide a healthy legacy for our children and for future generations. We call on EPA to cancel all uses of pesticide chlorpyrifos.
Other letters with a similar demand were delivered to the EPA from environmental health groups nationwide, including a petition signed by more than 6,000 concerned citizens across the country.
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The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.
"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."
The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.
They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.
They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.
But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.
"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.
What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.
It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.
To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.
First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.
Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.
University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.
"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."
Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.
"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.
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