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Chlorpyrifos, Just Say No

Posted on March 3, 2017 by Jeanne Roberts There have been 0 comments

It’s one of those Frankenfood chemicals whose name we can’t pronounce either, but that doesn’t mean you have to put up with it in your air, water, soil or food!

What Is Chlorpyrifos?

It is an organophosphate (OP) insecticide. Part of a family of over 100 chemicals, OPs have a reputation as the most toxic of all pesticides, at least among vertebrates – that is, animals with a spine, like humans. Chlorpyrifos is a more recent generation of OPs, and one of the most lethal.

How Is It Harmful?

Like other OPs, chlorpyrifos is highly unstable, meaning it breaks down rapidly in the environment. It acts on the nervous system, and is cumulative, meaning each additional exposure is exponentially more harmful than the last.

Chlorpyrifos is marketed by Dow Chemical, a global agrochemical company. It is manufactured in the company’s AgroSciences Division, under the names Dursban or Lorsban, both crop pesticides.

In addition to neurological effects, Chlorpyrifos also acts on the brain, producing depression (and suicide); on the heart, reducing blood flow; and on the eye, causing near-sightedness and the eye disease called Saku – characterized by a shrinking visual field and abnormal eye movements (optic neuromyositis).

Now, more than 50 years after its invention, and more than a decade after it was removed from all household products (i.e., to kill cockroaches, flies, fire ants, fleas, and lice in domestic dwellings and commercial establishments), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA,  is finally considering its withdrawal from “almost all” remaining uses. That is, from edible crops.

Almost all may not be enough, and even March of 2017 – the EPA’s deadline for making a decision – may not be soon enough to prevent the harm this product causes, not just to humans, but to 97 percent of the more than 1,800 animals and plants protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Chlorpyrifos and its relatives, the organophosphates, are now found in 87 percent of human umbilical cord samples. When an environmental toxin becomes that ubiquitous, it is time to be afraid. Very afraid.

How Do I Know When I Have Been Exposed?

If you work in, near, or around farming operations, greenhouses, lumber mills, or wood-product factories, or handle fresh produce or grains, or live in an apartment or public housing, you may have come in contact with chlorpyrifos. It can enter your body through breathing or eating contaminated foods, or through contact with eyes or skin.

Chlorpyrifos itself is not toxic. When the body tries to break it down for assimilation, it creates a toxic form, chlorpyrifos oxon, which binds permanently to an enzyme responsible for sending messages to nerve cells.

Most of this toxin is excreted within days, as the body attempts to replace the oxon version with non-toxic enzymes. A smaller percentage – that finds its way into the nerve molecules – can stick around a lot longer. In fact, scientists do not know how long this form of chlorpyrifos can survive.

At the very least, exposure will cause a runny nose, tears, and increased saliva, or drooling. There may be excessive sweating, headaches, nausea and dizziness. More serious exposures can cause vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, darkened or blurred vision, twitching, tremors, weakness, and loss of coordination. In the most extreme cases, individuals may lose bladder and bowel control, have convulsions, experience difficulty in breathing (from autonomic nervous system paralysis) and even die if medical help is not readily available.

As always, children are the most vulnerable members of the population, followed by people with health conditions and the elderly. The largest affected populations are in the rural, agricultural South, on cotton, grain and cornfields; in the Midwest; in Arizona, where the desert is being made to produce an abundance of winter vegetables and fruits; and along the West Coast, particularly in Southern California and the San Fernando Valley, which grows most of the produce consumed in the U.S.

Please ask the EPA to remove chlorpyrifos from the environment. Sign the United Farm Workers ban on chlorpyrifos before March, so that the EPA sees just how strongly all Americans – not just farm workers – oppose its use. And please use only safe, non-toxic products in your home, whether for humans or pets.

This post was posted in Blog and Green Library, Eating Well, Health and Safety and was tagged with chlorpyrifos, corn, cotton, crops, depression, Dow Chemical, Environmental Protection Agency, eye disease, farm workers, grain, Lorsban, near-sightedness, NON-TOXIC, OP, organophosphate insecticide, paralysis, Saku, sweating, tremors


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