A disturbing lack of official information in the public domain about organophosphates

13 Aug

The subject of hyperactive children, once more in the headlines, recalls the research finding which supports the hypothesis that organophosphate exposure, at levels common among US children, is a factor and warrants further research.

Toxicology journal coverAn email message from Peter Evans, Chairman of the OP Action Group North West, included a reflection on the recent research into neurobehavioral problems following low-level exposure to organophosphate pesticides, led by Dr Sarah Mackenzie Ross, a consultant clinical neuropsychologist & honorary senior lecturer at University College London – see the UCL post. Its findings were published in Critical Reviews in Toxicology and the abstract said:

“The majority of well designed studies found a significant association between low-level exposure to OPs and impaired neurobehavioral function which is consistent, small to moderate in magnitude and concerned primarily with cognitive functions such as psychomotor speed, executive function, visuospatial ability, working and visual memory”.

He said that farmer Margaret Percival recently rang the Health and Safety executive in Liverpool for the latest advice regarding organophosphate sheep dips.

The HSE assists employees to prosecute an employer in the event of ill-effects arising from the use of OPs but is unable to provide employers with any advice concerning the “safe” use of OPs. She was referred to the Veterinary MD in Northern Ireland but initially no one there could assist. The following day she was promised that an effort would be made to acquire leaflets that provide recommendations to farmers using OP sheep dips.

The questions that arise are these:

  • What is being done in other countries?
  • Is there an effective alternative to OP sheep dip being used abroad?
  • What action is being taken abroad to tackle/control sheep scab (if any)?

Other groups affected include:

  • Gulf War Veterans, who were exposed to pesticides on a daily basis during their tour of duty to protect them from pests such as sand flies, mosquitoes and fleas which carry infectious diseases
  • airline pilots and cabin crew, who can be exposed to organophosphates in engine oil.

A chilling reminder from Peter Evans implies that very few people will be unaffected. He points out the perils accompanying the current use of OPs in the growing, transport and storage of food:

  • in the holds of ships bringing produce from abroad,
  • as an insecticide during the growing process,
  • in warehouses,
  • and supermarkets where the air conditioning is employed to distribute OPs around the store every 3 weeks to kill insects and other pests.

Time for the precautionary principle to come into play – better late than never.

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