January 30, 1998
U.S. EPA Fails to Protect Children from Pesticides in Food
Every day, one million U.S. children age five and under
consume unsafe levels of pesticides that can harm the
developing brain and nervous system, according to a new
report by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). The report,
based on an analysis of federal data, found that most of the
risk to children comes from five organophosphate
insecticides: methyl parathion, dimethoate, chlorpyrifos,
pirimiphos methyl and azinphos methyl. The foods most likely
to contain unsafe levels are peaches, apples, nectarines,
popcorn and pears. Among baby foods, pears, peaches and apple
juice most frequently had elevated levels.
EWG undertook the study to monitor effectiveness of the 1996
Food Quality Protection Act, which requires all pesticides to
be safe for infants and children. "It's been more than 18
months since Congress passed the Food Quality Protection
Act," said Richard Wiles, vice president for research at the
Environmental Working Group. "This study shows that every
day, hundreds of thousands of children receive unsafe
exposures, at precisely the age when they are most vulnerable
to long- and short-term brain and nervous system damage." The
study found that approximately one in four peaches and one in
eight apples have levels of organophosphate insecticides
(OPs) that are unsafe for children.
The report stresses that the solution is not for infants and
children to eat fewer fruits and vegetables, but rather "that
baby food should not contain pesticides," said Wiles
EWG says its report is the first comprehensive analysis of
exposure to organophosphate pesticides in the U.S. food
supply. It is based on more than 80,000 samples of food
tested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the
Food and Drug Administration, and dietary records for more
than 4,000 children collected by USDA.
According to the report, estimates of the number of children
at risk of exposure to unsafe levels of pesticides are
conservative because children are also exposed to pesticides
sprayed in their homes, schools and day care centers. In
addition, the EPA's current standards are based on levels
considered safe for adults. The study estimates that as many
as 3.6 million children aged 6 months to 5 years would be
considered at risk from pesticide levels in food if EPA set
standards that complied with the Food Quality Protection Act,
which requires an additional ten-fold margin of safety.
EWG urges that the five OP pesticides be banned immediately
for all agricultural use, and also recommends:
-- a ban on all home and other structural use of OP
-- a ban on all OP pesticides on commodities that end up in
-- safety standards for all OP pesticides must be set at
levels that are safe for infants and children
-- additional developmental neurotoxicity studies on all OP
pesticides in the food supply must be conducted before EPA
adopts new OP regulations next year.
The chemical and food industries called the report alarmist
and said it serves only to frighten parents away from
wholesome food. "The food is safe and so are their children,"
said Jay Vroom, president of the American Crop Protection
But EPA has already identified organophosphates as the top
priority in determining whether to change the acceptable
residue levels in food. EPA will decide whether to set new
standards for organophosphates in the food supply by August
1999. The agency could ban them outright or change the
acceptable levels in foods. According to an Associated Press
report, one top EPA official familiar with the Environmental
Working Group report said its findings were not out of line
with the agency's analysis of the threat to children.
"The study offers concrete evidence reinforcing our view that
organophosphates cannot be safely used on food," said David
Chatfield, Executive Director of Californians for Pesticide
Reform (CPR), a coalition of over 70 groups in California.
"The report shows how widespread these contaminants are and
calls into serious question the notion that children's safety
can be ensured by setting allowable, so-called 'safe
exposure' limits. These chemicals are unsafe at any speed,
and should be banned."
Copies of the report can be ordered for US$20 from EWG (see
below) or downloaded from the internet: www.ewg.org.
Sources: "Overexposed: Organophosphate Insecticides in
Children's Food," 1998. Environmental Working Group;
Associated Press, January 29, 1998.
Contacts: EWG, 1718 Connecticut Ave, N.W., Suite 600,
Washington, DC 20009; phone (202) 667-6982; fax (202) 232-
2592; email firstname.lastname@example.org; web site: www.ewg.org
CPR, 116 New Montgomery, #800, San Francisco, CA 94105; phone
(415) 495-1149; fax (415) 495-1141; email email@example.com; web
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