The literature also notes the consistent "healthy worker effect" in
the farm population; higher rates of skin and lip cancers from exposure to
the sun and smoking; elevated rates of other health effects, especially
certain reproductive/birth defects; and a probable role (as initiators
and/or promoters) of other chemicals farmers are exposed to routinely
(fuels, hydraulic and other oils; viruses in hog and poultry sheds, etc).
Pesticides rarely are the sole cause of cancer (among farmers and
consumers); they are risk factors which increase the frequency and severity
of disease in some portion of the exposed population. Much evidence is
pointing to impaired immune system development and function as one of the
most common mechanisms, i.e., pesticide exposure does not directly cause the
cancer but it plays a role in disarming/weakening the body's natural
defenses such that tumors gain the upper hand and are able to progress to
The latest important epidemiological study I know of appeared in the
March 1999 issue of Env. Health Perspectives (Vol. 107, Num. 3). "Cancer
Mortality in Agricultural Regions of Minnesota," by Dina Schreinemachers,
John Creason and Vincent Garry, confirms findings reported in an earlier
study (published maybe 18 months ago), and also reached some new
conclusions. They found elevated mortality ratios for 7 cancers in four
regions of the state. The statistical significance of the findings were
greatest in the regions with the most intensive use of pesticides.
Unlike other midwestern epi studies, this one found elevated rates
of mortality to thyroid and bone cancers, in addition to various leukemias.
A possible link to exposure to ETU, the oncogenic metabolite in the EBDC
fungicides (maneb, mancozeb, ziram, metiram, also known as Dithane, Manzate,
etc), is noted in one region, the first such finding.
There is a series of coordinated epidemiological studies underway
now for 3-5 years as part of a national farm/farm family health study.
Dozens of new studies will be published over the next 24 months, providing a
much firmer base to quantify the contribution of pesticide exposure to
increased incidence and mortality from cancers caused or promoted by
pesticide exposure. The findings will no doubt be challenged, and among
some labelled "junk science" just as the Consumers Union article and
analysis are being attacked. Some people in the ag community now so firmly
believe that pesticides are safe, period, that they appear not interested in
nor willing to seriously consider new evidence of risks. In time science
and better information will prevail over "conventional wisdom" and cherished
mythology, but in the interim, expect a lot of name calling.
Charles Benbrook 208-263-5236 (voice)
Benbrook Consulting Services 208-263-7342 (fax)
5085 Upper Pack River Road firstname.lastname@example.org [e-mail]
Sandpoint, Idaho 83864 http://www.pmac.net
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