The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) began an ongoing study in 1999 in an effort to calculate the public?s exposures to environmental contaminants, including mercury, tobacco smoke, and certain pesticides. By taking blood and urine samples, scientists can monitor the population?s contact with chemicals present in the air, water, dust, food, and soil over time.
?So far, the results of the initial CDC National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals confirm what many people already suspected,? says Susan Kegley, staff scientist at Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA). ?The general population has contaminant levels exceeding those set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as safe.?
If you want to limit your exposure to pesticides, you need to become familiar with the ways you come into contact with them. ?Residues on food and home-and-garden insecticides are well-known ways for people to be exposed to pesticides,? says Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides. ?But laundry and bathroom products, such as sanitizers and mildew removers, also contain pesticides. The chemicals commonly used to keep backyard swimming pools clean and clear are laced with pesticides.? Institutions and businesses use these products too. At least 21 neurotoxins are used in schools.
People often forget to consider the pesticides not under their direct control. ?Spraying of nearby agricultural fields or monthly applications by the neighbor?s lawn service cause drift that can be a significant source of pesticide exposure,? says Kegley.
Diet has a huge effect on the amount of pesticides people ingest. Researchers at the University of Washington analyzed the urine of 100 children. ?Ninety-nine of the kids had detectable levels of pesticides in their systems,? says Kegley. ?The only participant with no evidence of exposure ate organic food.?
?Pesticides have become omnipresent in our rain and air,? says Steve Tvedten, president of Get Set, a company specializing in nontoxic pest control. ?Chemicals used in Africa find their way to Florida in a short amount of time. And our generation has been exposed to more than 500 toxins that our grandparents weren?t. Even if pesticides were safe, they?re not always effective. If they were, we wouldn?t continue to need them. And already, more than one-half of the pests are resistant to poisons.?
The same herbicides and pesticides many people spray on their own gardens have been linked to the onset of Parkinson?s Disease, a disorder that turns movement into a battle between the brain and the nerves.
The first connection was made in the early 1980s, when young people illegally taking an impure form of Demerol (MPTP) exhibited symptoms of an advanced form of Parkinson?s. The chemical structure of MPTP resembles the herbicide paraquat. During the past two decades, researchers have continued to explore the associations between pesticides and Parkinson?s.
?I was surprised at how accurately rats developed the signs of Parkinson?s,? says Dr. J. Timothy Greenamyre, a researcher at Emory University. The rats in the study were given the pesticide rotenone. Because it is often labeled as a ?natural? pesticide, many home gardeners feel safe using it. Rotenone is also used to kill nuisance fish in lakes and reservoirs and fleas and ticks on pets.
A recent Stanford study showed that Parkinson?s patients were twice as likely to have been exposed to in-home insecticides than people without the disease. People exposed to herbicides also were more likely to develop it. A study at the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit confirmed that people exposed to insecticide were 3.5 times more likely to be diagnosed with Parkinson?s disease than people with no history of pesticide exposure. ?Contact with herbicides gave people a four times greater chance of developing Parkinson?s,? says Dr. Jay M. Gorell, head of the Movement Disorders Clinic in the Neurology Department. ?The study also searched for a relationship between Parkinson?s disease and farming and found it. Farmers were 2.8 times as likely to have PD as the general population.?
More than 1 million Americans have Parkinson?s, and every nine minutes another person is diagnosed with the disease. It?s second only to Alzheimer?s disease as the most common neurodegenerative disorder in the United States. It was first described by the English physician James Parkinson in 1817 and kills the nerve cells in the brain that release dopamine, a chemical necessary for controlling movements. Normal everyday tasks, such as buttoning a shirt, rising from a chair, or writing a letter, eventually become impossible.
??People may or may not be aware of their lifetime history of contact with pesticides,? says Gorell. ?Experts are searching for ways to quantify past exposures.? Heredity is another important factor to gauge when studying this disease, although only10 percent of Parkinson?s cases are attributed directly to heredity. Most researchers agree that a sophisticated interrelationship between genetic susceptibility and environmental exposures may cause Parkinson?s.
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Scientists at Liverpool University in the U.K. have discovered that more than one pesticide in food may increase the potential for harm.
Many of the different items in our weekly diet have been exposed to some form of pesticide at some point in their production, and although the majority of these chemicals have disappeared by the time the food reaches the consumer, residues can remain. Government estimates suggest that 40% of food contains some kind of pesticide residue. Some scientists blame increasing pesticide use in modern agriculture for a variety of modern health problems, such as an increase in particular cancers and a decrease in male fertility over recent years.
Researchers found that combinations of different pesticides were far more toxic to human cells than similar quantities applied individually. Unborn babies are vulnerable to brain damage from pesticides in their mothers? diet.
Dr. Vyvyan Howard, who headed the research team, says, ?Pesticides are tested one at a time but virtually nothing is known about taking pesticide A and pesticide B, putting them together and seeing what happens then. If you consider that each one of us is walking around with hundreds of chemicals in our bodies, that couldn?t have been there 50 or 60 years ago because they didn?t exist on the planet, you can see the level of complexity of the problem.?
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