Doctors:Pesticides Are Leading to Increases in Chronic Illnesses Doctors in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are warning of an increase in chronic illnesses that have been tied with unhealthy eating habits and consuming fruits and vegetables contaminated with pesticides, according to a July 2017 TheNational.ae report.
Doctors have associated chronic illnesses, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and osteoporosis to high levels of pesticides in imported food. In fact, the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment banned the import of certain fruits and vegetables from five countries in the Middle East in May 2017 over concerns about high chemical levels, TheNational.ae reported. Pesticide use is strictly controlled within the UAE; however, pesticides are heavily used in agriculture in other parts of the world.
“Medical practitioners believe that consuming certain kinds of food may contribute to causing cancer,” said Dr. Yogash Shastri, a gastrologist at NMC Specialty Hospital in Abu Dhabi. “I have seen at least one person diagnosed with different types of cancer on a weekly basis and there have been no specific causes related to their family medical history.”
Dr. Shastri discussed a patient, 45, who was diagnosed with colon cancer despite having no family history of the disease and leading a healthy, vegetarian lifestyle. Another patient, 37, was also diagnosed with cancer and also had no family history of cancer. “An unhealthy diet contributes to causing several chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and osteoporosis,” he said, according to TheNational.ae.
Pesticides, particularly chlorine-containing pesticides, are dangerous to the human body as the body is unable to metabolize the chemicals. “Many patients visit physicians complaining about abdominal pain,” Dr. Shastri told TheNational.ae. “We do all the tests for them. Findings show no specific reasons. This is why doctors assume that the types of food consumed may have a relation.”
Physicians have chronicled a rise in cases in inflammatory bowel disease, which is a chronic inflammation of all or parts of the digestive tract. “The main cause of this disease is not known, but we suspect that it is caused by hormones and pesticides,” Dr. Shastri said. The doctor also said that additional research was being conducted to determine which hormones, pesticides, or agents cause the disease, TheNational.ae reported.
Pesticides build up to dangerous levels, magnifying through the food chain, and have been found in products that range from meat, poultry, and fish, to vegetable oil, nuts, fruit, and vegetables.
One woman, 21, said she no longer eats animal meat after becoming ill for a number of months. She has also gone through a number of medical procedures to determine the cause of her ailment; however, she received conflicting diagnoses. “After I stopped eating certain food I now feel much better,” she told TheNational.ae.
Another woman said she was very careful about the food her three children ate. “I saw one of my sons eating fruits without washing it,” she said. “I told him this is not good for his health. A few weeks later, he suffered from a severe stomach pain.” She said her doctors were unable to determine the cause of his pain but her son now washes all fruits and vegetables before eating them and has not experienced any stomach pain since.
Dr. Jane Darakjian, a clinical dietician at Top Medical Clinic, recommended that people go further and peel their fruit and vegetables. “Pesticides are among the main causes of health problems. Washing fruits and vegetables is not enough to get rid of pesticides. The best way is to peel the skin of some vegetables and fruits while others need to washed deeply.”
A New Look At Chemical and Pesticide Regulation
One of the most important objectives of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is to protect human health; however, critics question if federal environmental laws and regulations meant to implement these laws are sufficient to protect against repeated exposure to toxins over long time frames.
One scholar believes consumers are not being appropriately protected. In a recent paper, Sanne Knudsen, an associate professor at the University of Washington School of law, wrote that the way in which the government approaches the protection of human health does not consider the cumulative risk that chemicals and pesticides present. Knudsen points out that cumulative risk is the combined impact on human health due to exposure to hundreds of toxins through various pathways, according to a July 2017 issue of The Regulatory Review.
While some federal laws—the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act—seek to regulate cumulative air and water pollutant risks, laws meant to regulate chemicals and pesticides—the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA)—do not address cumulative exposure impacts. Both statutes contain information-forcing measures that mandate manufacturers to disclose details about their production of chemicals and pesticides; however risk assessments are not mandated, The Regulatory Review noted.
Recent efforts to update environmental laws have not directly addressed cumulative risk. In June 2016, President Obama signed the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act—Chemical Safety Act—into law as an amendment to the TSCA. While the Chemical Safety Act mandates the EPA to evaluate existing chemicals and establishes new risk-based safety standards, the Act does not mandate that EPA, states, or regulated entities perform assessments of cumulative risk, according to The Regulatory Review.
According to Knudsen, this issue is worsened by a widespread, but bogus, belief that individuals are able to control their toxic risk profiles. Rather, says Knudsen, individuals do not have the basic information needed to understand risks posed by long-term exposure to chemicals and pesticides, nor do they have the knowledge to evaluate risks from exposure to the various toxins that interact with one another. Because of “the complex nature of interactions among the many chemicals and pesticides that proliferate in the United States,” Knudsen stresses the possibility for synergistic harm in which the “presence of contemporaneous poisonous substances” strengthens their combined danger. Knudsen notes points to an EPA study of disinfectant chemicals in chlorinated drinking water. Researchers reportedly discovered a connection between exposure to a combination of toxins and various illnesses such as reproductive and developmental damage and cancer, The Regulatory Review reported. Knudsen concluded that current regulatory measures meant to promote consumer choice, including chemical labeling and information disclosure mandates, are not sufficient to alleviate the hazards of chemicals and pesticides.
Some scholars believe that disclosure of information is an effective policy option for managing risks from toxic substances. One example involves researcher W. Kip Viscusi at Vanderbilt University and economist Ted Gayer of the Brookings Institution who both believe that regulators should adopt a cost-effectiveness approach that respects individuals’ varying risk tolerances. This would mandate manufacturers and employers provide hazard warnings to individuals, who would then be able to determine if they wanted to accept the risks tied to exposure to chemicals and pesticides.
For example, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires the labeling of hazardous chemicals under its Hazard Communication Standard. According to OSHA, this labeling provides increased access to information and workers are able to avoid illnesses from hazardous substance exposure, including asbestos, wrote The Regulatory Review. Viscusi and Gayer argue that this is a preferable way in which to regulate chemicals and pesticides
Knudsen warns that, despite acknowledging the possible benefits of information disclosure requirements, the lack of regulatory measures that target “the cumulative effects of exposure to chemicals and pesticides means that tens of thousands of substances circulate within the United States, even as regulators and the public have only limited knowledge of their long-term health effects,” wrote The Regulatory Review.
EPA data shows that, in any given year in the U.S., more 85,000 chemicals are made and distributed; approximately 675 active pesticide ingredients are sprayed. One study of the cumulative effects from pesticides, revealed traces of eight common pesticides known as organophosphates were found in food, drinking water, and residential housing. Low-level exposure to these pesticides may increase risks of neurological disorders, including attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
With little confidence of safety and not much consideration of the overall effect of these substances, Knudsen argues that we are facing a “daunting collective action problem” that calls for increased regulatory response. Knudsen also points out that the risk is further heightened by he persistent nature of some chemicals such as PCB and other dioxin-like substances whose harmful effects never minimize over time. Knudsen proposes that the EPA incorporate cumulative risk assessments into its process for making its initial determinations of if chemicals and pesticides meet applicable safety standards. Knudsen explains that the regulatory framework needed to incorporate cumulative risk analysis into EPA regulations exists today because the agency currently has authority to protect against “unreasonable risk” under the Chemical Safety Act and “unreasonable adverse effects” under FIFRA, The Regulatory Review reported.
Knudsen argues that, by incorporating cumulative risk assessments in the regulation of chemicals and pesticides, regulators may address a critical, but ignored, area of their so-called mission to protect human health, according to The Regulatory Review.
Mayo Clinic Study Ties Pesticides with Parkinson’s Disease
On June 14, 2006, a Mayo Clinic study established that men who used pesticides for farming or any other intentions raised their risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. The findings of the study have been published in the June 2006 issue of Movement Disorders. The study also determined that pesticide contact did not increase the danger of Parkinson’s disease in women. Additionally, no other domestic or industrial chemicals were significantly linked to the disease in men or women.
Jim Maraganore, M.D., Mayo Clinic neurologist and study investigator, said “This confirms what has been found in previous studies: that occupational or other exposure to herbicides, insecticides, and other pesticides increases risk for Parkinson’s…. What we think may be happening is that pesticide use combines with other risk factors in men’s environment or genetic makeup, causing them to cross over the threshold into developing the disease. By contrast, estrogen may protect women from the toxic effects of pesticides.”
Mayo Clinic examiners contacted all residents in Olmsted County, Minnesota, who had developed Parkinson’s disease between 1976 and 1995. Each person with Parkinson’s disease was matched for comparison to someone similar in age and gender that did not have the disease. Mayo Clinic researchers then began to conduct telephone interviews with 149 residents with Parkinson’s disease and 129 who did not have the disease. The data from the telephone interviews determined if individuals had exposure to chemical products via farming occupation, non-farming occupation, or hobbies.
After reviewing all the information gathered during the phone interviews, the Mayo Clinic team was unable to conclude through these interviews the exact exposure levels of these individuals or the cumulative lifetime exposure to pesticides. In general, the study established that men with Parkinson’s disease were 2.4 times more likelier to have had exposure to pesticides than those who did not have Parkinson’s disease.
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