On Children, Pesticides, and Strawberries – UPDATED

By Miryam Ehrlich Williamson

UPDATE: Near the end of this post is a link to the EPA page where you can place a comment. It’s not obvious how to do this, so I’ve added instructions at the bottom of this page.

Photo courtesy of PANNA

Of the 80-thousand-plus chemicals in use today, most have never been tested, either for effectiveness or safety. So says the Pesticide Action Network of North America (PANNA). It’s reasonable to conclude that some of these 80,000 are implicated in three new studies released April 20 in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, published by the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, part of the National Institutes of Health.

The studies, here, here, and here, come to the same conclusion using three different techniques: children exposed to pesticides before birth have more trouble with memory, reasoning, language skills, and an overall lower IQ between the ages of 12 months and 7 years than their unexposed peers. This is true both for the children of California farmworkers, where the pesticides are in the air, and inner-city New York, where their mothers most likely contacted the pesticides by eating them on their fruit and vegetables.

Washing doesn’t always give enough protection; peeling may be necessary. Sometimes nothing is enough.

Into this chemical stew comes the pesticide methyl iodide, also known as iodomethane and nicknamed “Mel.” Some reputable scientific agencies say it causes cancer; others say it does not. But there seems no dispute that it can cause lung, liver, kidney, and central nervous system (CNS) damage as well as nausea, dizziness, coughing, and vomiting. Among other things, CNS damage is associated with the kinds of mental functioning measured in the children who were studied and found wanting.

The US Environmental Protection Agency registered methyl iodide for agricultural use in 2007, ignoring a letter from more than 50 scientists, five of them Nobel laureates, that said, in part,

It is astonishing then that the Office of Pesticide Programs is working to legalize broadcast releases of one of the more toxic chemicals used in manufacturing into the environment.

Approval became final at the end of the Bush 2 administration. New York and Washington state declined to follow suit. At the tail end of the Schwarzenegger administration, in December 2010, California approved the use of methyl iodide in the soil to destroy weeds, fungi, and insect pests. There it’s most common use is in growing strawberries, which are shipped all over the United States.

Thanks largely to PANNA’s efforts, EPA has reopened its comment period. The docket number is EPA-HQ-OPP-2010-0541 and you see others’ comments (there are 113 at this writing) and submit your own here. Deadline for comments is April 30. 2011. (Scroll down for instructions on entering your comment on the EPA site.)

Children are always more vulnerable to toxic substances, if only because their little bodies have less mass in which to absorb the poisons. Methyl iodide is one more argument for buying your ground-grown fruits and vegetables as locally as possible – unless you’re in California, in which case, lots of luck.

Related Posts:

On Pesticides and Children

What’s On Your Food?


Go to http://www.regulations.gov/#!searchResults;rpp=10;po=0;s=EPA-HQ-OPP-2010-0541

Scroll down about halfway and you’ll see a list of comments. Find the Action column at the far right. Click on Submit a Comment.

On the page that opens, click the box that says “Comment Directly on Public Submissions.” (If you don’t do this, you’ll be commenting on someone else’s comment.)

A new page opens. You do not have to provide information in part 1, or you may place your name in the “Organization’s Representative” space. The box to the right is for your comment.

You have 20 minutes to write your comment. Then you’ll be asked if you’re finished or want to continue.

Comments are limited to 2,000 characters (including punctuation and spaces between words), so you may want to write your comment before you go to the site and copy it into the space. Word processing applications such as Microsoft Word have a menu choice, usually under “Tools” that lets you count words and characters.

The comment process isn’t as easy as it could be, but it’s not all that difficult.

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