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The toxic avalanche

16 Apr

“Humans emit more than 250 billion tonnes of chemical substances a year, in a toxic avalanche that is harming people and life everywhere on the planet”, says Julian Cribb, author of ‘Surviving the 21st Century’ (Springer International 2017).  

He is quoted in an article published by Phys.org™, a web-based science, research and technology news service whose readership includes 1.75 million scientists, researchers, and engineers every month:

“Every moment of our lives we are exposed to thousands of these substances. They enter our bodies with each breath, meal or drink we take, the clothes and cosmetics we wear, the things we encounter every day in our homes, workplaces and travel . . . “

The European Chemicals Agency estimates there are more than 144,000 man-made chemicals in existence.

The US Department of Health estimates 2000 new chemicals are being released every year. The UN Environment Program warns most of these have never been screened for human health safety.

The World Health Organisation estimates that 12 million people – one in 4 – die every year from diseases caused by ‘air water and soil pollution, chemical exposures, climate change and ultraviolet radiation’, all of which result from human activity . . .

Medical science is increasingly linking issues such as obesity, cancers, heart disease and brain disorders such as autism, ADHD and depression to the growing volume of toxic substances to which humans are exposed daily.

Cribb says that the poisoning of the planet through man-made chemical emissions is probably the largest human impact – and the one that is least understood or regulated. It is one of ten major existential risks now confronting humanity:

Examples of the toxic avalanche include:

  • Manufactured chemicals – 30 million tonnes a year
  • Plastic pollution of oceans – 8mt/yr
  • Hazardous waste – 400 mt/yr
  • Coal, oil, gas etc – 15 gigatonnes (billion tonnes) a year
  • Lost soil – 75 Gt/yr
  • Metals and materials – 75 Gt/yr
  • Mining and mineral wastes – <200 Gt/yr
  • Water (mostly contaminated with above wastes) – 9 trillion tonnes a year.

“Industrial toxins are now routinely found in new-born babies, in mother’s milk, in the food chain, in domestic drinking water worldwide. They have been detected from the peak of Mt Everest (where the snow is so polluted it doesn’t meet drinking water standards) to the depths of the oceans, from the hearts of our cities to the remotest islands. The mercury found in the fish we eat, and in polar bears in the Arctic, is fallout from the burning of coal and increases every year. There is global concern at the death of honeybees from agricultural pesticides and the potential impact on the world food supply, as well as all insect life – and on the birds, frogs and fish which in turn depend on insects.”

Cribb says an issue of chemical contamination largely ignored by governments and corporations is that chemicals act in combination, occur in mixtures and undergo constant change. “A given chemical may not occur in toxic amounts in one place – but combined with thousands of other chemicals it may contribute a much larger risk to the health and safety of the whole population and the environment.” 

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In the same vein, Isle of Wight reader Richard Bruce reminds us that way back in 1997 US scientists called for a ban on all OP pesticides used on food crops because of the cumulative risk to children. Read more here. The UK regulators referred to the paper as “a challenging document” but nothing was done. Some 1000 scientists wrote a letter of complaint when George W Bush refused to take action on their advice to ban all OPs.

He points out that the 2016 UK Pesticide Guide clearly states that the chemical is dangerous to the environment. For the similar chlorpyrifos methyl it states that the chemical must NOT be used on grain for seed. But both are add-mixed with the grain at harvest and there is no requirement to declare this poisonous addition on food labels “because it is a pesticide”. Often unsupervised, untrained, farm and grain store workers use methods that inevitably create “hotspots” of massive overdose. Some of those methods are no longer recommended but there is still no control over application, or the methods used. the Health and Safety Executive which is supposed to enforce the regulations all too often fails in its duty.

Prensa Latina, the official state news agency of Cuba. reports that the UN Council on Human Rights, the organization’s Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Food, Hilal Elve (left), warned in its yearly report that most of the population around the world is exposed to pesticides through food, water, air or direct contact with the chemicals and toxic waste. The problem is worse in poor and developing nations, but no country is immune to these harmful substances. pregnant women run the risk of abortion, premature birth and congenital malformations. There are irreversible consequences to health, such as cancer, Alzheimer, Parkinson, hormone disorders, sterility and growth disorders.

Richard Bruce also points out that we are exposed to cumulative poisons every day, adding, “and no one cares”.

 

 

 

Burkino Faso was not silenced by Monsanto

14 Apr

Devinder Sharma (New Delhi) draws our attention to Burkina Faso, Africa’s top cotton producer but among the world’s poorest countries. In 2008, in order to reduce losses due to pests, it introduced a variety of cotton containing Monsanto’s Bollgard II trait nationwide.  

Sharma adds: “It was then hailed as a technological development which would change the face of the rural landscape”.

Over the years, however, a decline in value was blamed on the genetically modified (GM) cotton. Reuters reported that the Inter-professional Cotton Association of Burkina said that quality was damaged when Monsanto introduced the gene into its cotton. The fibre length, one of the chief measures of quality, was reduced, causing Burkina Faso’s cotton to fetch lower prices on the world market.

Burkina Faso did not renew its contract with Monsanto last year and this season it abandoned the use of the GM variety in favour of a return to its conventional cotton strain.

Sharma comments that instead of allowing its arm to be twisted, Burkina Faso took on the mighty multinational giant. It demanded compensation of US$76.5 million from Monsanto for the losses suffered. As a preventive measure, Burkina Faso withheld US$24 million in royalties collected from Burkina Faso farmers.

Reuters adds that Wilfried Yameogo, managing director of SOFITEX, said: “This brings definitive closure to a collaboration that had promised to offer the company a foothold in Africa but ended in dispute. In doing this, we think that a bad deal is better than a bad court case. We have closed the Monsanto dossier. There is no longer a demand for compensation”.

The Agriculture Minister Jacob Quedraogo (sometimes spelt as Ouedraogo), said that the country will now resort to cultivation of conventional cotton varieties, and he hopes the reintroduction of traditional cotton will eliminate the quality issues.

Sharma ends: Let’s learn something from Burkina Faso

 

 

 

Taxpayers unwittingly fund GM trials as the prospect of leaving wiser European counsellors looms

29 Mar

Will agri-business ultimately be allowed to charge ahead, imposing genetically modified food on an unwilling public?

Yesterday Farming Today, whose sylvan banners (one example above) indicate a preference for traditional farming whilst the actual programmes often court the worst establishment proposals, reported that a new GM wheat trial has been planted at the Rothamstead research centre in Hertfordshire.

It was advocated – yet again – as needed to feed the world’s poor. Hunger is due to the poor lacking land to produce food or money to buy it. Will Monsanto etc be giving food free of charge?

Last November, Clive Cookson, FT Science Editor, had reported on this plan to grow a crop of wheat that has been genetically modified in the spring of 2017 at Rothamsted, alongside non-GM wheat of the same Cadenza variety, as a control.

The work is publicly funded through a £696,000 grant from the government’s UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and $294,000 from the US Department of Agriculture. Other partners include the universities of Lancaster and Illinois.

This is Rothamsted research centre, one of the country’s largest agricultural research stations.

Cookson adds that when the crop is harvested at the end of the summer, the researchers will discover whether genetic modification raises the yield in the field by as much as it did in trials carried out so far under glass. Rothamsted hopes this will work better than its last GM field trial of wheat genetically modified to repel aphids by giving off an alarming scent which worked well in the greenhouse but in a field trial it failed to show any crop protection benefits over conventional wheat. Malcolm Hawkesford, head of plant biology and crop science at Rothamsted, said the negative outcome showed how important it is to carry out field trials to confirm laboratory studies.

Earlier in March, news was received that the Organic Research Centre joined 32 other organisations in a letter to DEFRA which asked that the application from the Sainsbury Laboratory to release genetically modified (GM) and possibly blight-resistant potatoes be refused.

The tubers produced by the transgenic plants released will not be used for animal feed and will be destroyed following harvest, according to a government website.

Potato blight can be combated through conventional breeding and cultural methods

The letter, co-ordinated by GM Freeze, sets out the reasons why they believe that this trial should not go ahead, including the charge that the applicant has neglected to consider a number of serious and complex hazards, that the trial represents a significant risk and will not benefit society, that genetic modification is not necessary for blight resistance and that there is no market for GM potatoes.

 

 

 

 

Long-term exposure to OP insecticides puts farmers at high risk of diabetes

18 Mar

Richard Bruce, who has suffered severely for many years following exposure to pesticides in the course of his work, sends news of research by a team from Madurai Kamaraj University, published in Genome Biology and is generously accessible to all readers. The paper may be accessed here.

Megha Prakash, in an article in ‘Down to Earth’, highlights the case of a 12-year-old boy reported from Mysuru, Karnataka. In 2011 the boy had eaten tomatoes from a field without washing them only a few hours earlier. Krishnan Swaminathan, an endocrinologist and president of the Coimbatore-based Kovai Medical Centre and Hospital, says that it was due to this impact of the chemical on the body’s insulin function that he first thought there could be a link between OP exposure and diabetes.

Researchers from Madurai Kamaraj University draw blood samples of village residents to test for diabetes (ARUL / MADURAI KAMARAJ UNIVERSITY)  

The observations in this and other cases mentioned in the article formed the premise of a study, conducted by a team from the Madurai Kamaraj University, to investigate the high prevalence of diabetes being reported from rural areas. Previous studies had shown a high prevalence of diabetes in rural Tamil Nadu, but this is the first one to link pesticide exposure to the disease.

Megha Prakash writes: “The researchers surveyed 3,080 people from seven villages in Thirupparan-kundram block of Madurai district. Participants were above the age of 35 years. Almost 55% of them were from the farming community and were, hence, more likely to be exposed to OPs. Based on the blood test results, it was found that the prevalence of diabetes among the farming community was three times higher (18.3 per cent) than that in the non-farming community (6.2 per cent), despite the low level of typical risk factors such as obesity, high cholesterol and physical inactivity”.

Source of graphic: International Diabetes Federation, Ministry of Home Affairs, research papers

To read more about the action of this pesticide on the human body – and on mice – click here.

After countries started regulating or banning DDT in the 1970s due to its effects on the environment, OP insecticides came to account for 40% of the global pesticide market.

Ganesan Velmurugan, the lead researcher filed a Right to Information request against some of the state’s agricultural universities which listed these banned pesticides on their websites and even recommended their use.

But the response to his queries was not satisfactory. Kalpana Ramasamy, assistant professor at Agriculture College and Research Institute of the Tamil Nadu Agriculture University told Down To Earth that though agriculture universities are now recommending green-labelled pesticides (a green label means “slightly toxic”) to farmers, a complete ban will not be successful until an alternative to OP pesticides is found.

Prakash continues: “In India, pesticide use is regulated by the Central Insecticides Board and Registration Committee (CIBRC) and the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI). As of October 20, 2015, the CIBRC has completely banned two OP pesticides and regulated the use of four others. Of the four are methyl parathion, which is banned for use on fruits and vegetables, and monocrotophos, which is banned for use on vegetables”.

The study’s authors insist on the importance of spreading awareness about the effects of OP insecticides, especially in an agrarian country like India. “One must educate farmers about measures such as washing and soaking vegetables before use and wearing appropriate gear before spraying the pesticide. If awareness is not created now, in the next 10 years, the burden of this problem will be immense,” says Swaminathan.

But has effective protective clothing at last been designed? In one of many allegations,  sheep dip insecticide was alleged to contain chemicals which attacked the rubber in gloves making them porous. The effect was to render the protective clothing useless. Current advertisements say these suits only ‘reduce’ risk

Our informant Richard Bruce comments; “Of course OPs have been known to change blood sugar levels for a very long time but this confirms the diabetes link. Diabetes is rising in the general population in Britain because we are all exposed to these poisons in our food and environment.

 

 

 

 

Agrichemical industry resists OP pesticides ban proposed by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

19 Feb

In January EcoWatch reported that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its first nationwide assessments of the effects of three pesticides, all organophosphates, on endangered species. It found that 97% of 1,800 animals and plants protected under the Endangered Species Act are likely to be harmed by malathion and chlorpyrifos, two commonly used pesticides. The World Health Organization last year announced that malathion and diazinon are probable carcinogens.

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Another 78% are likely to be hurt by the pesticide diazinon. The results are the final biological evaluations the EPA completed as part of its examination of the impacts of these pesticides on endangered species. (See April draft here).

The three pesticides are all organophosphates, a class of insecticides which researchers at the University of California at Berkeley found in 87% of human umbilical-cord samples.

In 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed to ban chlorpyrifos, a widely used insecticide sprayed on a variety of crops including oranges, apples, cherries, grapes, broccoli and asparagus. The pesticide, in use since 1965, was linked to illnesses among farm workers and neurodevelopmental problems in children. However, Dow AgroSciences and others in the agrichemical industry successfully resisted the proposal.

ecowatch-2-logoEcoWatch reports that Chemical & Engineering News (paywall) states the EPA is under a court order to make a determination about the use of chlorpyrifos by March 31 — about a decade after the agency initially failed to respond to a petition raising concerns about the chemical from environmental advocates.

Following these final evaluations from the EPA, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service will issue final biological opinions to identify mitigation measures and changes to pesticide use by December 2017 to help to ensure that chlorpyrifos, malathion and diazinon will no longer potentially harm any endangered species in the U.S. when used on agricultural crops.

“We’re now getting a much more complete picture of the risks that pesticides pose to wildlife at the brink of extinction, including birds, frogs, fish and plants,” said Nathan Donley, senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity:

“The next step will hopefully be some commonsense measures to help protect them along with our water supplies and public health.”

 

 

 

 

MSM downplays EU ban/delay on use of glyphosate, a probable carcinogen, for 18 months

9 Feb

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On February 8th, Agranet reported that the European Citizens Initiative (ECI) was launched in several European cities. It calls on the commission to propose a “ban on glyphosate, to reform the pesticide approval procedure, and to set EU-wide mandatory reduction targets for pesticide use”.

Its main objectives: Ban glyphosate-based herbicides, exposure to which has been linked to cancer in humans, and has led to ecosystems degradation; ensure that the scientific evaluation of pesticides for EU regulatory approval is based only on published studies, which are commissioned by competent public authorities instead of the pesticide industry; set EU-wide mandatory reduction targets for pesticide use, with a view to achieving a pesticide-free future.

In January this year, the Farmers Weekly recorded the European Commission’s registration of petition calling for a ban on the use of glyphosate, the key ingredient in Monsanto’s top-selling weedkiller. The initiative was formally registered on 25 January, starting a one-year process for the collection of signatures in support of the proposal. If the proposal receives the support of a million people from at least seven member states, the Commission will be obliged to consider a legislative response and provide justification for its decision.

The FW article adds that the European Chemicals Agency is undertaking a review into glyphosate and will consider whether it should be classified as a carcinogen by the EU. The review is due to be published this summer. It comes after a study, led by Michael Antoniou, at King’s College, London, linked glyphosate to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in rats. Monsanto maintains glyphosate, when used according to label directions, “does not present an unreasonable risk of adverse effects to humans, wildlife or the environment”.

On 2nd February William Bowles blogged The EU has refused to give Monsanto’s glyphosate the green light. It’s delayed the decision for 18 months while glyphosate is re-evaluated” adding ruefully:

“(Banned) but not, it seems in Lambeth in London where the stuff is sprayed regularly on the pavements in my neighbourhood”.

 

 

Links between exposure to organophosphate pesticides and the onset of diabetes

26 Jan

As the government’s Food Agency is diligently warning the public of possible harm from burnt toast, will it heed a new concern raised by Indian scientists?  

British governments have a poor record when there is a conflict of interest between public health and large arms related/chemical/pharmaceutical companies.

Successive governments resisted acknowledging the harm done by early nuclear tests, Gulf War medication, thalidomide, mercury in infant vaccines and infected imported blood products – even, in the 70s and 80s compelling farmers to use organophosphate-based sheep dip and to this day encouraging the addition of a toxic chemical to drinking water.  

msc-header

The number of diabetes cases in Britain is causing concern; the Medical Research Council (above, a publicly funded government agency) reported in 2015 that there are 3.9 million people living with diabetes in the UK and quotes estimates that more than one in 16 people in the UK has diabetes (diagnosed or undiagnosed).

Richard Bruce sends a link to a report from India by Pallava Bagla published on Tuesday. It records that scientists at Madurai Kamaraj University in Tamil Nadu have found links between the use of pesticides and the high prevalence of diabetes in India (65 million people, second only to China).

They found the prevalence of diabetes in people regularly exposed to insecticides was three-fold higher (18.3 per cent) than in unexposed people (6.2 per cent).

Their results were published in the peer-reviewed journal Genome Biology. They also conducted experiments on mice, in which they found that exposure to pesticides upsets the micro-flora of the gut, leading to the onset of diabetes. Read quite a detailed account here: http://genomebiology.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13059-016-1134-6

The team – which had been conducting the research in rural areas of South India – suggests that if people are continuously exposed to common OP pesticides like Malathion and Chlorpyrifos, they can get diabetes even when they do not have the other risk factors – obesity and high cholesterol.

ops-2-used-in-agric-india

This was a departure from traditional findings: the 3,080 people surveyed were physically active and did not have the better known risk factors for diabetes like obesity and high cholesterol.

OP pesticides are widely used in agriculture. Malathion is used even in urban areas to control mosquitoes and termites. They are known to affect memory and concentration, cause depression, headache and speech difficulties. The US Environmental Protection Agency (at risk under the new president?) publishes findings that these are amongst several classes of toxic chemicals that can harm children; researchers say OPs could be a contributing factor in learning disability and behavioural problems in children.

The scientists at Madurai Kamaraj University suggested that, in view of the high occurrence of diabetes in India, the use of OP (organophosphate) pesticides should be reconsidered.