Babies Exposed to Levels of Pesticide 800% Higher Than EPA’s Level of Concern
Posted Aug 24 2010 12:00am
Twenty –five years ago, more than 2,000 people were poisoned by Aldicarb, a highly toxic pesticide used on cotton and several food crops. It was the biggest case of pesticide poisoning in US history. Local officials recommended a ban, to no avail, and Aldicarb has merely been under “special review” with the EPA for more than 25 years. But, finally, action is being taken.
What was the straw that finally broke this camel’s back? New EPA documents showing that babies and children under five can ingest levels of the insecticide through food and water that exceed levels the agency considers safe. For infants, consumption of aldicarb residue – mostly in potatoes, citrus and water – can reach 800 percent higher than the EPA’s level of concern for health effects, while children between the ages of one and five can ingest 300 percent more than the level of concern, according to an Aug. 4 EPA memo.
This newest analysis has compelled an agreement between the EPA and the pesticide’s sole manufacturer to phase out aldicarb. According to Marla Cone of Environmental Health News
Manufacturer Bayer CropScience agreed to stop producing aldicarb, a highly toxic insecticide used to kill pests on cotton and several food crops, by 2015 in all world markets. Use on citrus and potatoes will be prohibited after next year.”
One of the most acutely hazardous pesticides still used in the United States, aldicarb is a carbamate insecticide that is taken up by roots and carried into the fruit of a plant. High levels of aldicarb can have neurotoxic effects; it inhibits an enzyme that controls the transmission of messages to nerves.
“After thousands of poisonings, it is mind-boggling that aldicarb is still in use,” said Steve Scholl-Buckwald, managing director of the environmental group Pesticide Action Network North America. “The wheels just grind so, so slowly. It never should have been registered in the first place back in 1970 and by the mid-1980s there was sufficient data to suggest it should have been taken off the market.”
Richard Jackson, who was a top official in California’s health department at the time of the watermelon poisonings, testified at a U.S. Senate hearing back in 1991 that aldicarb posed a health risk to children and that regulations offered an inadequate margin of safety.
“It is good the revocation is happening; it is a shame it took 20 years,” said Jackson, now chair of environmental health sciences at UCLA.
Dr. Lynn Goldman, an environmental health professor at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health, also welcomed the agreement, noting that aldicarb has been under special review at the EPA for more than 25 years.
“It is good to see that EPA and Bayer have now reached an agreement to phase out the remaining uses,” Goldman said Tuesday.
Goldman was an epidemiologist with California’s health department when the outbreak occurred.
“As a state health official, I wanted to see stronger action on aldicarb,” she said, adding that she and Jackson “recommended that aldicarb be banned in California, because of its potency and what seemed to be a large temptation for misuse. We obviously did not prevail.”
Scholl-Buckwald said that the EPA relies mostly on voluntary agreements, instead of bans, to avoid lawsuits from manufacturers.
“The system is designed to leave things like this on the market as long as possible. It’s innocent until proven guilty. It’s really unconscionable that it takes literally decades to do this,” he said.
This month, the EPA revised its analysis using new toxicity data and determined that current uses meant babies and young children were at risk of being exposed to levels in water and food that exceeded the agency’s level of concern.
Aldicarb residues are found in grapefruit, oranges, orange juice, potatoes, frozen French fries and sweet potatoes. It already has been banned in bananas because of the potential for high exposure in children.
In the new analysis, children’s exposure from drinking water was estimated based on aldicarb use at cotton and peanut farms in Georgia.
“Potatoes, citrus and water are the greatest contributors to the aldicarb exposure,” the EPA document says.