Impacts of Toxic and Persistent Chemicals Due to Non-Organic Operations - Organic Trade Association
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Impacts of Toxic and Persistent Chemicals Due to Non-Organic Operations

  • A California Department of Public Health study has concluded that women living near California farm fields that are sprayed with organochlorine pesticides may be more likely to give birth to children with autism spectrum disorders. Because of the small number of women and children studied, researchers cautioned that this finding is “highly preliminary.”
    Source: “Maternal Residence Near Agricultural Pesticide Applications and Autism Spectrum Disorders
    Among Children in the California Central Valley,” Environmental Health Perspectives web site, 2007.

  • French research published in Occupational and Environmental Medicine online in June 2007 found that agricultural workers with extensive exposure to pesticides had elevated risk of brain cancer. Dr. Isabelle Baldi of the University of Bordeaux and colleagues in France studied 221 adults who developed brain cancer between 1999 and 2001 and 442 adults from the general population of the same age who were free of the disease. The overall risk of brain cancer was 29 percent higher for those with occupational exposure to pesticides. Farmers, vineyard workers and others with the highest exposure had a two-fold higher risk of developing a brain tumor.
    Source: Occupational and Environmental Medicine online, June 2007.

  • A study published in the September 2006 issue of Molecular Endocrinology  linked organotins, a class of environmental contaminants, with excess weight gain and fat cell aberrations. Organotins are ingredients in many household products, including pesticides, and are persistent compounds found in low concentrations in most humans and animals. In the study with mice and frogs in vitro and in vivo, U.S. and Japanese scientists examined organotins for their endocrine-disrupting effects, which have been implicated in contributing to weight gain and obesity.
    Source: Molecular Endocrinology (Vol. 20, No. 9), September 2006.

  • Findings published in the BMC Neurology Journal found that of 600 people studied, those exposed to pesticides had a 1.6 times greater risk of developing Parkinson’s disease than those who were not. Those who made “heavy use” of pesticides, or who were exposed to them more than 200 days in the course of their lifetime, were found to have over twice the level of risk, suggesting that “there is very strong evidence” linking pesticide use and Parkinson’s disease, according to lead researcher Dana Hancock.
    Source: BMC Neurology Journal (, 2008.

  • Research findings presented at the Parkinson’s Disease Environmental Research meeting in April 2007 showed mounting evidence that pesticides can cause Parkinson’s disease, according to a Reuters article written by Maggie Fox. Among the findings cited: farm workers using the common weed killer paraquat had two to three times the normal risk of Parkinson’s, animals exposed to paraquet have a build-up in their brains of a protein (alpha-synuclein) linked to Parkinson’s, and another study showed that this protein build-up kills the same brain cells affected in Parkinson’s.
    Source: Maggie Fox, Reuters article on April 2007 Parkinson’s Disease Environmental Research meeting.

  • Mayo Clinic researchers have found that using pesticides for farming or other purposes increases the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease in men. “This confirms what has been found in previous studies: that occupational or other exposure to herbicides, insecticides and other pesticides increases risk for Parkinson’s,” according to Jim (Demetrius) Maraganore, Mayo Clinic neurologist and study investigator. Overall, men with Parkinson’s were 2.4 times more likely to have had exposure to pesticides than those without the condition.
    Source: Movement Disorders, June 2006.

  • Researchers from Wake Forest University School of Medicine and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who studied immigrant farm worker families in North Carolina and Virginia found evidence of pesticide exposure to their young children. In a study of children from six North Carolina counties, urine samples analyzed for evidence of exposure to organophosphate insecticides revealed levels higher than those found in people in other parts of the United States. As part of the study, mothers were interviewed to learn more about risk factors for exposure. Findings showed that three in five children lived in households in which farm workers did not shower immediately after work, and four in five lived in households where workers changed their clothes in the dwelling.
    Source: Thomas A. Arcury, Joseph G. Grzywacz, Stephen W. Davis, Dana B. Barr, and Sara A. Quandt, American Journal of Industrial Medicine online, June 27, 2006.

  • Research published in Environmental Health Perspectives has highlighted findings about organophosphate pesticide exposure for those working with apples and pears in eastern Washington. Farm workers on conventional apple and pear farms had significantly higher concentration of dimethyl pesticide metabolites in their urine and elevated azinphos-methyl concentrations in their homes and vehicles than workers who did not work with these crops. Their children also had higher concentrations of urinary dimethyl metabolites than children of workers not handling these crops. Researchers included Gloria D. Coronado, Eric M. Vigoren, Beti Thompson, William C. Griffith and Elaine M. Faustman.
    Source: July 2006 issue of Environmental Health Perspectives (Vol. 114, No. 7, Pages 999-1,006).

  • Agricultural exposure to insecticides, herbicides and fumigants is associated with an increased risk of developing non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), according to researchers at Northwestern University, the University of Nebraska Medical Center, and the National Cancer Institute. Their study found that patients exposed to animal insecticides, crop insecticides, herbicides or fumigants had a 2.6 to five-fold increase in the incidence of NHL.
    Source: “Agricultural pesticide use and risk of t(14;18)-defined subtypes of non-Hodgkin lymphoma,” Blood (Vol. 108, No. 4, pages 1,363-1,369), August 2006.

  • Research conducted by researchers at Oregon Health and Science University, the Oregon Child Development Coalition, and the University of Pennsylvania has found Hispanic agricultural workers in Oregon exposed to low levels of organophosphate pesticides have impaired neurobehavioral performance compared to nonagricultural Hispanic workers in California. Researchers said the findings add to the increasing body of evidence of the association between low levels of pesticide exposure and deficits in neurobehavioral performance.
    Source: Environmental Health Perspectives, May 2006.


  • "Exposure to pesticides can cause a range of ill effects in humans, from relatively mild effects such as headaches, fatigue, and nausea, to more serious effects such as cancer and neurological disorders. In 1999, EPA estimated that nationwide there were at least 10,000 to 20,000 physician-diagnosed pesticide illnesses and injuries per year in farm work. Environmental effects are evident in the findings of the U.S. Geological Survey, which reported in 1999 that more than 90 percent of water and fish samples from streams and about 50 percent of all sampled wells contained one or more pesticides. The concern about pesticides in water is especially acute in agricultural areas, where most pesticides are used."
    Source: Agricultural Pesticides: Management Improvements Needed to Further Promote Integrated Pest Management, U.S. General Accounting Office [GAO-01-815, Page 4, August 2001].


  • Scientists worldwide estimate that up to 85 percent of the sperm produced by a healthy human has DNA damage, according to John Aitken, head of biological sciences at the University of Newcastle in Australia as reported in the Montreal Gazette. Scientists suspect a variety of environmental causes, including exposure to pesticides and other industrial chemicals.
    Source: Technical Report, August-September 2001, Beyond Pesticides/National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides.


  • A report published in The Lancet suggests a link between exposure to organochlorine compounds and pancreatic cancer. In the research, patients with high concentrations of DDT and three major PCBs were over five times more likely to have a mutation of the pancreatic cancer gene than patients with low levels. "Although the results require replication, and do not prove a direct causal link between the chemicals and the mutation, they suggest new roles for organochlorines in the development of cancers in human beings," according to Miguel Porta, a researcher on the study.
    Source: The Lancet, Dec. 18, 1999.


  • U.S. consumers can experience up to 70 daily exposures to residues from persistent organic pollutants (POPs) through their diets, according to a report from the Pesticide Action Network North America. The top ten POP-contaminated food items (in alphabetical order) are butter, cantaloupe, cucumbers/pickles, meatloaf, peanuts, popcorn, radishes, spinach, summer squash, and winter squash. The two most pervasive POPs in food are dieldrin and DDE (a breakdown product of DDT). The use of POPs is not allowed in organic agriculture. Exposure to POPS has been linked to breast and other types of cancer, immune system suppression, nervous system disorders, reproductive damage, and disruption of hormonal systems.
    Source: "Nowhere to Hide: Persistent Toxic Chemicals in the U.S. Food Supply," by Kristin Schafer, Pesticide Action Network North America, 2000 (


  • "Pesticides not only harm the health of farm workers and poison wildlife and wells, they also undercut their own effectiveness. They often kill off not only the target pest but also its natural enemies, creating pest resurgences. Furthermore, regular applications of any pesticide tend to hit individual pests most sensitive to the poison while letting the least sensitive survive and breed. So pest populations become resistant, forcing chemical farmers to turn to even more lethal poisons. In the past 50 years, more than 500 insect pests, 230 crop diseases, and 220 weeds have become resistant to pesticides and herbicides."
    Source: Donella H. Meadows, "Our food, our future," in September/October 2000 issue of Organic Gardening.


  • More than 500,000 tons of old and unused pesticides threaten the health of millions of people and the environment in developing countries and countries in transition, according to a report co-authored by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and the United Nations Environment Program. Poisons leaking from the stocks threaten human health, contaminate natural resources like soil and water, and make fields unfit for crop production. Among the highly toxic and persistent pesticides in the waste sites include aldrin, chlordane, DDT, dieldrin, endrin, heptachlor, malathion, and parathion.
    Source: "FAO Warns: Toxic Pesticide Waste Stocks Dramatically Higher than Previously Estimated—Calls on Countries and Industry to Speed Up Disposal," Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Press Release 01/28, May 9, 2001.

Organic Trade Association, October 2008.

The Organic Trade Association is the leading business association representing the organic industry in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Its 1700 members include growers, processors, shippers, retailers, certification organizations and others involved in the business of producing and selling certified organic products.

© 2008, Organic Trade Association.

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