In the spring of 2011 farm workers near Royal City, Washington, were working in an orchard when a toxic cloud drifted their way from a neighboring farm. Carol Dansereau, executive director of Farm Worker Pesticide Project describes what happened next:
Within minutes they were experiencing the pain and terror of acute poisoning: vomiting, abdominal cramps, dizziness, headaches, weak muscles, numbness, burning hot skin, and other symptoms.
Chlorpyrifos (CPF), the pesticide behind the poisoning, is one of the most common agricultural chemicals. The EPA finally banned it for household use in 2000, but it is still widely used on golf courses, treated wood and in agriculture. It lingers on foods, contaminates drinking water, and poisons the air.
It also lowers IQ, especially in boys. The latest in a string of studies to show chlorpyrifos harms growing brains did not look at farm workers. The 335 children and their mothers were Latino and African Americans from low-income neighborhoods in New York City. Columbia University tracked them from birth.
The study, published in the July 21, 2012 online issue of Neurotoxicology and Teratology, showed the impacts of prenatal exposure to CPF cannot be reversed. Parents can mitigate the effects slightly, through creating a nurturing environment, but they cannot erase them.
The researchers are not certain why boys’ brains appear to be more susceptible than girls’ to damage from CPF and other organophosphates. This is the first study to identify a gender difference, though another one released in 2012 showed that male rats exposed to CPF had reduced testosterone levels, a factor linked to brain development.
Reports of CPF’s toxicity have not fazed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Earthjustice sued EPA in 2007, attempting to get CPF pulled from the market. That suit is still unresolved. Although the EPA has announced new restrictions on its use, they denied chlorpyrifos was harmful enough to require a ban.
While evidence against CPF mounts, Dow AgroSciences continues to profit from yet another chemical wreaking havoc on people and the environment.
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