Peeing Out Pesticides

A yearlong study that followed a group of children found that when they ate conventionally grown fruits and vegetables, their urine and saliva contained signs of organophosphates, pesticides known to cause brain damage. When the kids ate organic produce instead, the signs disappeared.

Some residues are particularly creepy: Malathion and chlorpyrifos have been linked to everything from chromosone damage to leukemia to birth defects. However, these documented effects have occurred after “high-level exposure,” what you might get if you wandered onto a farm being sprayed by malathion to control fruit flies. No one’s quite sure what repeated low-level exposure does to the human body, particularly vulnerable, young human bodies.

Should parents rush out and fill their shopping carts with organic produce? Nah, says the study’s main author, Chensheng Lu, who has conducted similar pesticide studies in the past few years. It’s more important to eat more produce in general, he says, and to know which fruits and vegetables contain the most pesticides and buy those organically grown.

Still, here’s a chilling passage from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer story:

Congressional concern that children were being harmed by excessive exposure to pesticides led to the unanimous passage of the Food Quality Protection Act. At its heart was a requirement that by 2006, the EPA complete a comprehensive reassessment of the 9,721 pesticides permitted for use and determine the safe level of pesticide residues permitted for all food products.

‘As a result, the amount of these pesticides used on kids’ foods (has undergone) a 57 percent reduction,’ said Jonathan Shradar, the EPA’s spokesman.

But that’s not nearly enough to prevent birth defects and neurological problems, said Chuck Benbrook, chief scientist of the Organic Center, a nationwide, nonprofit, food research organization.

‘The pesticide limits that EPA permits are far, far too high to say they’re safe. And, the reduction that EPA cites in the U.S. has been accompanied by a steady increase in pesticide-contaminated imported foods, which are capturing a growing share of the market,’ he said.

Yet the EPA continues to insist that ‘dietary exposures from eating food crops treated with chlorpyrifos are below the level of concern for the entire U.S. population, including infants and children.’

That statement is ‘not supported by science,’ Benbrook said.

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