Exposure to pesticides, herbicides and insecticides has dramatically increased since the introduction of genetically engineered (GE) crops. Urine output of glyphosate, the active ingredient in the herbicide Roundup, shot up by more than 1,200 percent between 1993 and 2016.1 Unfortunately, glyphosate is not the only chemical of concern.
Chlorpyrifos (sold under the trade name Lorsban) — an organophosphate insecticide known to disrupt brain development and cause brain damage, neurological abnormalities, reduced IQ and aggressiveness in children — is another.2 ,3 In adults, the chemical has been linked to Parkinson’s disease4,5 and lung cancer.6
Chlorpyrifos has been in use since 1965, and is commonly used on staple crops such as wheat and corn, as well as fruits and vegetables, including nonorganic citrus, apples, cherries, strawberries, broccoli, cauliflower and dozens of others. Since the chemical has a half-life of several months and can remain on sprayed foods for up to several weeks,7 nonorganic foods are a major source of exposure.
Importantly, nonorganic, non-grass fed meats are likely to be loaded with this chemical, since conventional feed consists primarily of genetically and/or conventionally raised grains such as corn. This is yet another reason to make sure you feed your family grass fed meats and animal products, especially your young children. Chlorpyrifos is also a commonly found water contaminant, and has even been found in indoor air.8
Children experience greater exposure to chemicals pound-for-pound than adults, and have an immature and porous blood-brain barrier that allows greater chemical exposures to reach their developing brain. Needless to say, the results can be devastating and, indeed, many agricultural and industrial chemicals have been found to affect children’s brain function and development specifically.
Decadelong Effort to Ban Chlorpyrifos Fall Through
Permissible uses of chlorpyrifos was limited in the year 2000, at which time the chemical was banned for use in homes, schools, day care facilities, parks, hospitals, nursing homes and malls. However, agricultural use remained, and it can still be used on golf courses and road medians.
Scientists at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) actually pushed for a complete ban on chlorpyrifos, as its dangers are well-documented, and the chemical is in fact classified as a neurotoxin, as it disrupts communication between brain cells. Research shows that living within 1 mile of chlorpyrifos-treated fields increases a woman’s risk of having an autistic child by 300 percent.9,10
A petition to ban chlorpyrifos on food was filed over a decade ago, and the lack of response from the EPA finally led to a federal court ordering the EPA to issue a decision.11 Forced to act, Scott Pruitt, President Trump-appointed head of the EPA,12 issued an order denying the petition to revoke all tolerances for chlorpyrifos on food in March 2017.13,14 As noted by NPR:15
“That’s despite the agency’s earlier conclusion, reached during the Obama administration, that this pesticide could pose risks to consumers. It’s a signal that toxic chemicals will face less restrictive regulation by the Trump administration. In its decision, the EPA didn’t exactly repudiate its earlier scientific findings. But the agency did say that there’s still a lot of scientific uncertainty about the risks of chlorpyrifos …
Patti Goldman, from the environmental group Earth Justice, calls the decision ‘unconscionable,’ and says that her group will fight it in court … ‘Based on the harm that this pesticide causes, the EPA cannot, consistent with the law, allow it in our food.'”
87 Percent of Newborns Have Chlorpyrifos in Their Cord Blood
Considering Pruitt’s history of championing industry interests and the evidence showing other EPA officials have has taken an active role in protecting chemical giants against rulings that would impact their bottom line, his decision to keep chlorpyrifos on the market does raise suspicions. As noted by USA Today,16 Pruitt “filed more than a dozen lawsuits seeking to overturn some of the same regulations he is now charged with enforcing.”
Evidence also suggests Dow Chemical, the maker of chlorpyrifos, pressured government agencies to ignore incriminating studies (see next section). The EPA’s earlier conclusion that chlorpyrifos posed a risk to consumers was largely based on research17 showing that exposure to the chemical caused measurable differences in brain function. In one study, compared to children whose exposure to the chemical was negligible, children with high levels of exposure had lower IQ at age 7.18
Research19 published in 2014 showed that pregnant women exposed to chlorpyrifos during their second trimester had a 60 percent higher risk of giving birth to an autistic child. Studies have also shown that genetic differences can make some people far more vulnerable to chlorpyrifos than others.
Moreover, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, chlorpyrifos is metabolized in the human body into 3,5,6-trichloro-2-pyridinol (TCPy),20 which is even more toxic than the original insecticide. Disturbingly, California’s biomonitoring program found TCPy in 82 percent of Californians sampled in 2012, including pregnant women.21
Another 2012 study,22 which measured chlorpyrifos levels in maternal and cord plasma of women and children living in an agricultural community, found measurable levels in 70.5 percent of maternal blood samples and 87.5 percent of cord blood samples. According to the authors:
“Blood organophosphate pesticide levels of study participants were similar in mothers and newborns and slightly higher than those reported in other populations. However, compared to their mothers, newborns have much lower quantities of the detoxifying PON1 enzyme suggesting that infants may be especially vulnerable to organophosphate pesticide exposures.”
Dow Chemical Requested Evidence To Be ‘Set Aside’
Government-funded studies also reveal that chlorpyrifos poses serious risks to 97 percent of endangered animals in the U.S.23,24 This alone ought to be cause enough to ban this chemical, but it appears industry pressure worked its usual magic.
On April 13, 2017, a legal team representing Dow Chemical and two other organophosphate manufacturers sent letters to the three agencies responsible for joint enforcement of the Endangered Species Act25,26 — the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Department of Commerce — asking them to “set aside” these incriminating findings, as the companies believe they are flawed. As reported by USA Today:
“Over the past four years, federal scientists have compiled … more than 10,000 pages indicating the three pesticides under review — chlorpyrifos, diazinon and malathion — pose a risk to nearly every endangered species they studied. Regulators at the three federal agencies … are close to issuing findings expected to result in new limits on how and where the highly toxic pesticides can be used …
The EPA’s recent biological evaluation of chlorpyrifos found the pesticide is ‘likely to adversely affect’ 1,778 of the 1,835 animals and plants accessed as part of its study, including critically endangered or threatened species of frogs, fish, birds and mammals … In a statement, the Dow subsidiary that sells chlorpyrifos said its lawyers asked for the EPA’s biological assessment to be withdrawn because its ‘scientific basis was not reliable.'”
Pruitt claims he’s “trying to restore regulatory sanity to EPA’s work.” I would argue the definition of sanity is first not to abandon the EPA’s mandate to protect the public health and, further, not to give developmentally crippling toxins a free pass and ignoring loads of unbiased research documenting its toxicity.
At present, the EPA is also in the process of reassessing atrazine, another pernicious and exceptionally toxic agricultural chemical. It remains to be seen whether the agency will finally take a firm stand against this pernicious toxin, or let it slide like chlorpyrifos and glyphosate.
Toxic Exposures Have Robbed Americans of 41 Million IQ Points
Problems with cognitive function that are not severe enough for diagnosis are becoming even more common than neurobehavioral development disorders. In 2012, David Bellinger, Ph.D., professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School, published a study funded by the National Institutes of Health where he calculated the impact of toxic exposures on children’s IQ.27
He determined that based on a population of 25.5 million children, aged birth to 5, those born to mothers exposed to organophosphates, mercury or lead during pregnancy suffered a combined loss of 16.9 million IQ points. Researchers calculated a collective loss of 41 million IQ points in the U.S. from the same exposures.28 Conventional farmers are reluctant to stop using pesticides as this will put their crops at risk, and pesticide makers will not support a ban for obvious reasons.
But at what point do we say enough is enough? How many children have to be sacrificed for financial profits? Considering the lack of proactive measures from government and industry, it’s up to each and every one of us to be proactive in our own lives. One of the most effective ways to reduce your exposure to toxic pesticides, herbicides and insecticides is to buy certified organic foods, or better yet, foods certified biodynamic.
Environmental Toxins Kill 1.7 Million Children Annually, Worldwide
Untested chemicals should not be presumed safe.29 The World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that environmental pollution, including but not limited to toxic exposures, kills 1.7 million children every year.30 The top five causes of death for children under 5 are related to their environment.
A recent report from CHEMTrust, a British charity working internationally to prevent man-made chemicals from triggering damage to wildlife or humans, found current chemical testing is not adequately picking up chemicals that cause developmental neurotoxicity.31Their “No Brainer” report32 evaluated the impact of chemicals on the development of a child’s brain.
The report praised the European Food Safety Authority for work on risk assessment of pesticides and recommended their approach be expanded to include chemicals from other sources.33