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Tide Turning Against Harmful Chemicals

Pesticides singled out as dangerous, especially to mothers and children.

Mother and ChildWill we look back at 2015 and see it as the year public health institutions and the public at large demand changes when it comes to the use of agricultural and industrial chemicals?

The reaction to recent studies that declare all of us are at risk from compounds that can harm human health, but especially children and those in the womb, seems to suggest that the momentum for giving priority to people over chemical company profits is growing.

Part of that momentum is coming from the medical community. The International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics released a damning opinion piece (PDF) this fall that calls out a lack of attention to the risks faced by mothers, children, including those unborn, because of wide-spread exposure to harmful compounds. Their list of the “adverse health outcomes linked with preconception and prenatal exposure to environmental chemicals,” everything from fetal loss to increased childhood cancers, is particularly shocking.

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They know where the problem lies. Among the piece’s various recommendations is this: “Policies to address toxic chemicals must shift the burden of proof of safety of chemicals from the individual healthcare provider, the patient and the public to the manufacturers before they are released into the environment.” To that we say, amen.

The effect of the chemical contamination of our bodies extends beyond cancers and fetal development. In September, the Endocrine Society released a paper that references research that has found one of the most common endocrine disruptors, BPA:

is associated with increased risk of developing diabetes and obesity. Mounting evidence also indicates EDC exposure is connected to infertility, hormone-related cancers, neurological issues and other disorders.

It’s slightly encouraging that some major media outlets and their columnists are starting to pay attention. Stories like this, on a cluster of infants in a major agricultural area born with anencephaly, will pressure government agencies at all levels to pay attention. We can’t help but wonder if failing to look for a pesticide connection is due to influence from the pesticide industry. Could it?

The dangers to future generations including our ability to create future generations, should also be considered. Dystopian scenarios in which the consequence of chemical poisoning end life as we know it — anybody seen the movie adapted from P.D. James’ novel The Children of Men in which humankind is threatened by their inability to reproduce? — are rife in sci-fi film and books. But this isn’t fiction.

At what point do the risks outweigh the benefits when it comes to pesticides, especially now that pesticides are found to be less and less effective?

Those of us who practice organic gardening while trying to keep our homes free of harmful chemicals as best we can know that we live in a larger world and that we can’t entirely protect our selves and family (don’t forget the pets!) from exposure to harmful substances. But we can take heart that more and more calls to protect the public by wresting control of pesticide approval process from the pesticide companies are being sounded.

We believe that the more we know, the more influence we’ll have over reducing the use of harmful pesticides and other compounds. It’s time our regulatory agencies start heeding the science and calling for more.

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