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Much ado about an OP nerve-agent: but hundreds of British farmers were poisoned – compelled by government to use OP dips

13 Mar

Senior ministers have been told that the nerve agent used to poison Sergei and Yulia Skripal in in Salisbury, on Sunday 4 March 2018 near Porton Down, has been identified by Porton Down experts as the organophosphate Novichock. Porton Down’s research focus has successively been known as Chemical Warfare, Chemical Defence, Chemical & Biological Defence and now Defence Science and Technology. Areas of concern are outlined here. Early British collaboration with American chemical warfare research (aka ‘field studies’) is acknowledged here.

In 2015 the Guardian reported that a cross-party MPs called for an inquiry into the compulsory use of dangerous chemicals called organophosphates (OPs), used to protect livestock from parasites. The Farmers Weekly reported that the Sheep Dip Sufferers Support Group repeated this call in 2016

The problem was first identified by Dr Goran Jamal, a Kurdish-born neurologist working in Glasgow, who later gave evidence of OP-related Gulf War Syndrome. Read Booker’s compelling account in Scared to Death: From BSE to Global Warming: Why Scares are Costing Us the Earth, or extracts from it here.

In his autobiography, BBC Countryfile presenter Adam Henson wrote: “the authorities realized that they were poisoning a lot of farmers”. In Countryfile Magazine (9.6.17) he wrote (snapshot of page, above right)

BBC Countryfile Magazine made the following points below:

  • OPs were originally created as a nerve gas and were developed during the Second World War. In 1951 Lord Zuckerman, who would go on to become the government’s chief scientist, warned of the dangers of allowing farmers to use OPs. Zuckerman raised concerns that farmers could absorb the poison through skin or inhalation. Read the legal noticepublished by Minister of Agriculture and Fishery regarding the harmful effects of Ops in 1951. Read a report published by Tim Farron, MP, stating that Government knew about the harmful effects of OPs.
  • Zuckerman called for farmers to be given detailed instructions for the use of OPs and for the substance to be labelled as deadly poison, although neither suggestion would be adopted until the 1980s.
  • Dipping sheep became compulsory in the late 1970s, and the use of OPs specifically was mandated by the British government until 1992. Read abstract at Small Ruminant Research.
  • In 1981 an advice leaflet was produced by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) that warned against the dangers of using OPs, citing that the chemicals could be absorbed through the skin. A report from the HSE in 1990showed growing concerns over the use of the chemicals.
  • UCL’s Dr Sarah MacKenzie Ross reviewed existing scientific evidence in 2013 and found that 13 out of 16 studies showed evidence of neurological problems following long-term, low-level exposure to Ops. Long-term health issues linked to OP poisoning also include multiple sclerosis and memory issues.  (Ed; we add her work in Neurotoxicology and Teratology, Volume 32, Issue 4, 2010, abstract here.)
  • In April 2014 MPs called for a ‘Hillsborough-style’ inquiry into the sheep-dip poisoning, with Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham called it a “major scandal”. Source: Agri Wales.

A saga of missing medical records

In the Telegraph, Booker pointed out that the health of thousands of farmers and their families had been destroyed by using highly toxic organo-phosphate (OP) chemicals to dip their sheep, as a protection against parasites. When the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) commissioned its own internal study into this disaster, its findings in 1991 were so devastating that they had to be ruthlessly suppressed. The survey, later released under a freedom of information request, said:

“Repeated absorption of small doses [can] have a cumulative effect and can result in progressive inhibition of nervous system cholinesterase.”

The Manchester Evening News published an early photograph of Littleborough farmer, the late Brenda Sutcliff with her husband Harold. She and three family members became ill after using a government-recommended sheep dip.  No active, healthy old age for her – but her persistent campaigning was recognised and celebrated by many (below left).

Details of a sheep dipping survey were released by the Health and Safety Executive following a Freedom of Information Request by the Sheep Dip Sufferers Group. The HSE survey examined sheep dipping facilities and practices on a representative sample of 696 farmers across 16 different regions of Britain. See also: Minister pledges to re-examine OP sheep dip files

But in the same month as this report was published internally – May 1991 – the farming minister at the time, John Gummer, was demanding that local authorities clamp down on farmers who refused to use the chemical.

The report found 160 occasions where some form of ill-health occurred after dipping. It also criticised manufacturers for providing inadequate protective clothing and unclear instructions to farmers on how to use the chemicals: “If with all the resources available to them, a major chemical company proves unable to select appropriate protective equipment, what hope is there for an end-user?” Booker commented that ministers were only too aware that the government had forced the farmers to use these chemicals, which its own Veterinary Medicines Directorate had licensed as safe to use and ends:

“Although in 1992, the government quietly dropped the compulsory use of OPs for dipping, without explanation, a succession of Tory and Labour ministers refused to accept publicly that repeated exposure to them could cause irreparable damage – because, it seemed, any public admission that they were as dangerous as the HSE had found them to be might trigger off a major scandal resulting in tens of millions of pounds of compensation claims”.

A more high-profile victim (see illness), former sheep farmer Margaret Mar (right), a life peer in the House of Lords, has spent three decades campaigning in Westminster on the issue.

She said: “I know from private discussions with an advisor at the Department of Health that officials knew about the risks, but couldn’t publicly criticise OPs because they were a government-recommended dip at that time”.

An campaign by the Sheep Dip Sufferers’ Support Group, co-ordinated by Tom Rigby, organic dairy farmer and chair of NFU’s Organic Forum, has an exceptionally accurate and informative website, with a balanced approach, useful links and well-documented interviews and reports with the political establishment – recording reasonable interaction with MPs like Andy Burnham, George Eustice and Paul Tyler.

They deserve the last word:

“We are a group of volunteers campaigning for better diagnosis and treatment for all those affected by organophosphates used in agriculture. We have no membership subscription or outside funding and rely mostly on the collective experience of those who have been bravely battling against the devastating effects of these chemicals for decades.

“We hope 2018 will be the year when the farming community comes to realise the impact these insecticides have had on those involved in disease control and that they finally start to get the help and support they urgently need”.

 

 

Republished from Political Concern

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Hawaii: calling Syngenta to account – an uphill struggle

8 Mar

Richard Bruce has drawn attention to a case reported by Reuters in February. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had been seeking a $4.8 million settlement from Syngenta, alleging that dozens of workers at Syngenta Seeds’ former research farm on Kauai, Hawaii were exposed to the neurotoxic pesticide chlorpyrifos in 2016 and 2017.

Sold to Hartung in 2017, but Syngenta will ‘contract Hawaii-based seed production activities with the new owner’.

The final settlement was a meagre $150,000, with $400,000 more to be spent on worker protection, far less – as Alexis Strauss, acting regional administrator for the EPA’s Region 9, acknowledged – than the maximum allowed under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and its regulations designed to protect workers.

This would not surprise McKay Jenkins, whose book, Poison Spring  (Bloomsbury, 2014), co-written with E.G. Vallianatos, has been called “a jaw-dropping expose´ of the catastrophic collusion between the Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] and the chemical industry.

The IPS news agency reported that in 2013, the Kauai county council passed a law ordering the companies to create wider buffer zones and to disclose in far more detail than they do now what they spray, where and when.

A group of doctors in Waimea, which is surrounded by cornfields on three sides, testified that the number of cases of serious heart defects in local newborns was 10 times the national rate. But the head of the companies’ trade group, the Hawaii Crop Improvement Association, said that no credible source of statistical health information to support the claims had been seen. The association sued and a federal judge struck the law down, arguing that only the state can regulate pesticide use.

Background information

In Outside Online, whose wide remit includes health and fitness, Professor Jenkins writes about Kauai, a place where for years, multinational agrochemical companies have developed genetically modified seeds but kept their experiments secret from locals especially their use of pesticides to test the resilience of GM seeds to chemicals See his recent book: Food Fight: GMOs and the Future of the American Diet.

“In recent years over 16,000 acres of Kauai’s land have been leased to DuPont-Pioneer, Dow, and Syngenta because its tropical climate enables them to work their fields year-round. Company workers can plant experimental fields three seasons a year, which can cut in half the time it takes to develop a new genetically altered seed. They plant these seeds, then spray them with a wide variety of chemicals that are designed to kill weeds and insects. When they find food crops that can stand up to these toxins, they begin the process of taking them to market”.

The cases

In 2016 nineteen workers were exposed to chlorpyrifos after Syngenta sprayed the insecticide on a field of genetically engineered (GE) corn at its Kekaha farm. According to the complaint, the workers were allowed to reenter the field before the reentry period expired and without protective equipment. Ten workers were taken to the hospital and three were held overnight.

Pearl Linton hand-pollinating corn plants at a Syngenta seed farm on Kauai.

At the time of the incident, an inspector from the Hawaii Department of Agriculture (HDOA) was present on the Syngenta farm and the EPA brought a civil administrative enforcement action against Syngenta for violating several federal statutes including worker protection standards, allegedly affecting as many as 77 workers.

A second incident occurred in 2017 when Syngenta failed to post warnings for worker crews containing 42 employees after applying chlorpyrifos, an organophosphate pesticide. EPA also found that Syngenta failed to provide both adequate decontamination supplies on-site and prompt transportation to a medical facility for exposed workers.

Hawaii is now considering bills in the state House and Senate to ban chlorpyrifos, as well as a proposal to require farmers to notify the public when they use certain pesticides and to create buffer zones around some schools.  

Hawaii State Capitol, Makai Entrance

May the decisions taken there show concern for the health of its people and environment, regardless of vested interest, and justify its magnificent architecture

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Main source: https://www.outsideonline.com/2151976/ongoing-hawaiian-battle-shows-real-gmo-problem

 

 

 

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Roundup glyphosate: risk of cancer to ‘exposed’ agricultural workers and gardeners

7 Dec

A huge mistake? The European Commission will formalise on 12 December Monday’s decision by member states to renew for five years the licence for the herbicide glyphosate.

Weasel words in the FT last week:

“Although the World Health Organization last year said the herbicide was “probably carcinogenic”, the latest joint assessment by UN agencies concludes there is no risk to humans from exposure through the diet” – implying that evidence shows that the use of the herbicide is risk free.

In May last year, the UN agencies said:

“The overall weight of evidence indicates that administration of glyphosate and its formulation products at doses as high as 2000 mg/kg body weight by the oral route, the route most relevant to human dietary exposure, was not associated with genotoxic effects in an overwhelming majority of studies conducted in mammals, a model considered to be appropriate for assessing genotoxic risks to humans. The meeting concluded that glyphosate is unlikely to be genotoxic at anticipated dietary exposures” (emphasis added).

Dr Christopher Connolly, a reader in neurobiology at the University of Dundee, said in an article in the Science Media Centre journal: “The evidence on the risk to human health from glyphosate is highly controversial, making it difficult for politicians to make a sound science-based decision. It is alarming that it is so ubiquitous that it is found commonly in human urine. We must make the next five years count, so that an evidence-based decision may be made at the end of this period.

Prof. David Coggon, Professor of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at the University of Southampton, said:

“IARC classified glyphosate as probably having the potential to cause cancer in humans. This was based on evidence of carcinogenicity in animals and suggestions of an association with lymphoma in exposed people (mainly agricultural workers, landscapers, nursery workers and home gardeners).

Cancer incidence among glyphosate-exposed pesticide applicators in the Agricultural Health Study (2005)

Summary:

We evaluated associations between glyphosate exposure and cancer incidence in the Agricultural Health Study (AHS), a prospective cohort study of 57,311 licensed pesticide applicators in Iowa and North Carolina. There was a suggested association with multiple myeloma incidence (a type of bone marrow cancer) that should be followed up as more cases occur in the AHS. Given the widespread use of glyphosate, future analyses of the AHS will allow further examination of long-term health effects, including less common cancers.

The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer in March 2015 said that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans” (PDF), adding “The evidence in humans is from studies of exposures, mostly agricultural, in the USA, Canada, and Sweden published since 2001”.

The latest news was reported by CNN in May this year, opening with story of Christine Sheppard

For 12 years, she had no idea what might have caused her non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma — until the IARC reported that glyphosate, the key ingredient in the weed killer Roundup, is probably carcinogenic. Roundup is the herbicide she sprayed on her coffee farm in Hawaii for five years.

That report spurred hundreds of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma patients to sue Monsanto. Timothy Litzenburg’s law firm represents more than 500 of them. He said most of the patients didn’t know about a possible link between Roundup and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma until the report came out.

Other companies also sell products containing glyphosate, why target Monsanto?

Litzenburg points out that Monsanto invented Roundup, they held the patent for many years, they are the EPA registrant for glyphosate, and they continue to dominate the market, adding:

“We are not alleging that our clients got cancer from glyphosate alone. We are suing because our clients got cancer from Roundup. … Roundup contains animal fats and other ingredients that increase the carcinogenicity of the glyphosate.”

Though UN agencies concluded that as yet no risk to humans from exposure through diet has been found, studies find that workers and gardeners using Roundup risk contracting non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and multiple myeloma (a type of bone marrow cancer) – surely sufficient reason to withdraw the herbicide from use.

Media reports, including by EUobserver and Dutch magazine OneWorld, have shown that Efsa conclusions on the safety of glyphosate were partially based on scientific evidence provided by Monsanto, Roundup’s manufacturer. On 19 October, also the European Parliament expressed doubts over the scientific evaluations of glyphosate carried out by the European agencies.

Despite these findings, the European Commission will formalise on 12 December a decision by member states to renew the licence for the herbicide glyphosate for five years: https://euobserver.com/environment/140065.

Will Brexit give people in this country the opportunity to denounce the use of this and other dangerous substances and technologies and bring about beneficial change?

 

 

 

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Forty-six farmers spraying Monsanto’s GM Bt cotton died after inhaling the pesticide

14 Oct

Pradip MaitraHindustan Times, reports that in Vidharba, 46 farmers growing Monsanto’s Bt cotton died after inhaling poisonous pesticide whilst spraying the crop.. As pests had become resistant to pesticides formerly used, stronger formulations were being used with little or no protection – as Devinder Sharma points out in an earlier post.  

Most of the deaths were reported from Yavatmal, a major cotton-growing district that has often been in the news for farmers’ suicides.

More than 500 others have inhaled the poisonous spray and fallen sick, and are admitted in various hospitals. A few have already lost their vision, hearing or speech. More may die during treatment. As the death toll continues to rise, the chief minister Devendra Fadnavis ordered an inquiry under a special investigation team (SIT) to probe the matter.

The Quality Control of the state’s agriculture department on Wednesday raided 12 different godowns of pesticide companies and sealed those stocked to prevent further sales, seizing pesticides worth Rs 14.31-crore from Akola in western Vidarbha.

The Maharashtra State Agriculture Mission chairman Kishore Tiwari demanded a ban on chemical farming and encourage organic farming in the region. Tiwari, who is camping in Yavatmal after the incident, dubbed the entire episode as “genocide” and demanded to book the concerned multi-national manufacturers and concerned department, in this regard.

Tiwari has appealed to the state government to stop the use of harmful products to put an end to farmer fatalities and give compensation of Rs 5-lakh to the victims’ families. He alleges that the deaths are due to the vested interests of the regulatory officials in the agriculture department and administration’s negligence.

 

 

 

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Valproate: rely on self-regulation?

29 Sep

The advisory European Medicines Agency – which has no legal power – is examining the effectiveness of Valproate warnings

Valproate is an anti-epilepsy drug first licensed in the UK in 1975. Taking the drug during pregnancy had – for some years – been suspected by epilepsy experts to have a strong link with the development of ‘dysmorphic features’ – such as eyes set wider apart and a thinned upper lip – in children born subsequently. They also suspected that valproate use in pregnant mothers might lead to longer term developmental problems – but the evidence for this was anecdotal at the time. More evidence emerged throughout the 1990s. In 2005, UK patient information leaflets included concerns about delayed development in children.

In 2004 the New Scientist reported that a study (BMJ reference: Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry (vol 75, p 1575), led by Dr Naghme Adab from the Walton Centre for Neurology and Neurosurgery, Liverpool, UK, showed that children born to mothers who were on valproate when pregnant were eleven times more likely to have a verbal IQ score of 69 or below, compared with children born in the general population. To read the statistics and percentages click on the link above.

The researchers added that their results could have been partly skewed because only 40% of the mothers contacted for the study actually responded – mothers who cooperated might be more likely to believe their children were harmed by anti-epilepsy drugs. They added, however, that even if it is assumed the other 60% of children all had normal IQs, the children of valproate users would still be twice as likely to have a low IQ (below 79) than the general population.

“Epilepsy is the second most common cause of maternal deaths,” Tim Betts, a neuropsychiatrist at the University of Birmingham UK, told New Scientist. He warns that women should not stop taking prescribed anti-epilepsy drugs during pregnancy without consultation, and adds that safe alternatives are available. “When we see women before pregnancy we invariably try to get them off valproate,” he says.

Instructions for doctors – and, more recently, patient leaflets – say valproate should not be used during pregnancy unless there is no safer alternative and only after a careful discussion of the risks. The medicines regulator said warnings had been updated as more information had become available. Many women whose babies were affected say nobody warned them of the extent of the dangers. Warnings were only added to the outside of valproate pill packets in Britain last year.

Humane French politicians put Britain’s business friendly government to shame

In France, 1,200 families are preparing to sue the drug manufacturer, accusing it of failing to sufficiently inform women of the risks. The French government is supporting the legal action and has put aside about £9m (€10m) to compensate the families.

By contrast in 2010, families in England and Wales had to abandon a court case when their legal aid was withdrawn three weeks before the case was due to begin. They signed letters promising never to sue again, and in return were not billed for Sanofi’s multi-million pound legal costs. They are now calling for a judge-led public enquiry. An article on a BBC website this month adds that about 20,000 babies in the UK alone have been left with disabilities since valproate was introduced in the 1970s.

It also reports that women whose children have been harmed by the epilepsy drug sodium valproate are giving evidence to a European-wide safety review in London. The European Medicines Agency will examine whether warnings about risks to unborn babies are strong enough. Reuters reports that a  final recommendation is expected in December.

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

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.  

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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.