The scientific evidence is unmistakable: exposure to pesticides is associated with elevated rates of some of the most significant – and potentially deadly – diseases of our lifetime. Yet, there continues to be a huge disconnect between the very high – and in some cases, epidemic rise of these diseases and the need for tighter controls (or elimination) of the world’s most toxic pesticides.
In understanding why that disconnect occurs, it’s hard to overlook the power of the biotech industry and its powerful, well-funded influence over government regulators. But the problem exists beyond the farm gate.
Studies show that 28 out of the 40 most commonly used pesticides in schools have been linked to cancer, while 79 have been linked to other serious or life-threatening diseases or disorders. Of the 30 chemicals most likely to be used in lawn care, 19 are known to cause cancer while 49 are linked to nervous system, reproductive and fetal disorders.
Pesticides linked to many of the most serious health problems of our time
The Pesticide-Induced Disease (PID) database, created by the advocacy group Beyond Pesticides, is a compilation of studies from around the globe linking the use of pesticides to disease and other medical conditions. The result is a shockingly large volume of scientific data reflecting the serious dangers of chemical exposure, with children at even greater risk than adults.
Here are just nine of the long list of diseases and conditions with significant scientific evidence to link their cause to pesticides:
Pesticides have been identified as a cause of many types of cancer, from bladder, brain and bone cancers to leukemia and liver cancers to prostate and pancreatic cancers. The PID database includes research on nearly 30 different types of cancer and their link to pesticide exposure, but perhaps the most well-documented are cancers originating in the lymph system, including Hodgkin’s lymphoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
There are nearly 60 studies included in the PID database for lymph system cancers alone. These cancers are the 3rd most common cancers in children and the 7th most often diagnosed cancers in adults today. There has been a steady increase of these cancers, with rates doubling since the early 1970s.
One study cited in the PID database analyzed data from U.S. children ages 0 to 14, diagnosed with cancer between 1995 and 2001. Children living in agricultural counties were found to have an elevated risk of malignant bone tumors, osteosarcoma, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and the rare Ewing’s sarcoma.
2. Alzheimer’s disease
Known as the most common form of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, fatal disease of the brain affecting as many as 5.3 million Americans, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. There has been a steep increase in the number of Alzheimer’s disease diagnoses in recent decades that is roughly in line with the country’s increase in pesticide use a few decades earlier that would have exposed today’s patients to these toxins.
Numerous studies have found increased dysfunction of cognitive, psychomotor and behavioral skills – as well as greater incidence of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia – in those exposed to pesticides. Insecticides seem to be particularly dangerous in terms of neurotoxicity.
Research is beginning to reveal a link between pesticides and type 2 diabetes. Widespread exposure to organophosphate pesticides in particular appear to induce obesity, leading to a diabetic reaction in mice. The pesticide was found to increase food ingestion, glucose and total cholesterol concentrations. This led to a significant increase in diabetic profiles.
Over half of the people with diabetes worldwide live in Asia, regions known for pollution problems. Growing scientific evidence continues to link environmental pollutants, including pesticides, with increase prevalence of diabetes. In another study, pesticide applicators and their spouses were shown to be at greater risk of diabetes following exposure to at least five types of commonly used pesticides.
4. Parkinson’s disease
Parkinson’s disease is the second most common neurodegenerative disease, and occurs when nerve cells of the brain are damaged so that they no longer produce dopamine, which helps control muscle movement. At least one million Americans suffer from Parkinson’s disease, with about 50,000 new diagnoses made each year.
It is known that genetics plays a role in fewer than one percent of cases. Growing epidemiological and toxicological evidence point to pesticide exposure, as well as gene-pesticide interactions as a leading cause.
In one study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, subjects were found to increase their odds of Parkinson’s disease by 47 percent through frequent use of household pesticides. Those who frequently used pesticides containing organophosphates (OPs) were found to increase their likelihood of Parkinson’s by 71 percent.
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