People in a town in Entre Rios province in Argentina are demanding action on the high cancer death rates in the town. Nearly half of all deaths there in recent years have been caused by cancer, a rate far higher than the national average of 18 percent.
Statistics compiled by local residents show that 43.3 percent of deaths in San Salvador between 2010 and 2013 were due to some form of cancer. Many residents blame the cancers on the heavy use of pesticides in the rice and soybean plots close to the town, the Buenos Aires Herald reports. “There’s something going on here,” said local resident Andrea Kloster, who is involved in the community group “Todos por Todos,” which was formed by residents after the sudden death of a friend from a brain tumor. Kloster is among those who are convinced the high cancer rate has an environmental cause in the agricultural chemicals so widely used in the area.
In response to the group’s activism, teams of specialists from the Rosario and La Plata universities were sent to monitor the area. They are taking environmental samples and will collate the data, to establish whether there may indeed be a connection between the local agricultural industry and high rates of cancer. Damian Vercenassi, who directs the epidemiological study group, said that cancer was the primary cause of death among residents surveyed, according to the Herald. He noted health conditions including “increased endocrine, respiratory and allergic diseases.” Dr. Daniel Marino, the environmental team leader, said data gathering and corroboration would take four to six months to complete.
San Salvador, called Rice Capital of Argentina, has long been a center of agricultural production in Entre Ríos. The area has recently increased its production of rice and soybeans, crops grown with the use of various pesticides and herbicides that can be harmful to humans. In March, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the cancer research arm of the World Health Organization, said that glyphosate, a widely used broad-spectrum herbicide (sold in the U.S. under the brand name Roundup), “probably” causes cancer in humans. In addition, glyphosate has been shown to cause such symptoms as respiratory distress, impaired consciousness, pulmonary edema, arrhythmias, and renal failure, according to a 2004 study published in Toxicology Review.
Agricultural chemicals are sprayed on the fields by adapted tractors or by crop-dusting planes, and they can drift to nearby areas. Workers are exposed to the chemicals in tending and harvesting crops. Though agricultural vehicles are not permitted within 400 meters of residential areas, residents report that this regulation is not always followed, according to the Herald.
Residents also express concern over the chemical drying agents used on rice and soybeans after harvest. Workers and residents are exposed to the powders through contact and inhalation. And there are reports that discarded pesticide canisters have contaminated ground water in some neighborhoods.