Approved but not-so-safe pesticides

August 7, 2008

The Center for Public Integrity (CPI) has discovered that two groups of common pesticides, generally considered to be “safer” chemicals, are responsible for one quarter of reported human pesticide poisonings, based on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) own data. CPI spent several years demanding the release of the data through repeated Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. A trade association representing the interests of the consumer specialty products industry denounced the report.

Perils of the New Pesticides, analyzes the number of reported human health problems, including severe reactions and deaths, linked to two families of pesticides, pyrethrins and pyrethroids, over the past decade. Pyrethrins are a class of chemicals derived from chrysanthemum plants. Pyrethroids have similar properties but are created synthetically.

Pesticides made with these chemicals are found in thousands of common household products such as flea and tick poisons, ant and roach killers, delousing shampoos, lawn-care products, and carpet sprays.

The data reveal that reported incidents of fatal, major, and moderate exposures to the two classes of pesticides increased 300 percent since 1998.

There were 1,030 incidents reported to EPA in 2007 alone, up significantly from the 261 reported in 1998. Pyrethrins and pyrethroids accounted for more incidents than any other class of pesticide over the last five years. The EPA’s reporting system receives up to 6,000 reports of pesticide exposures annually.

The CPI report concludes that the increase in reported health problems may be a result of increased use and popularity of pyrethrins and pyrethroids following the ban on residential use of another popular group of chemicals, organophosphates, which are thought to be more toxic. However, the EPA data show at least 50 deaths attributed to these supposedly safer classes of pesticides since 1992.

Similar data provided by the American Association of Poison Control Centers were compared to the results. The association’s data also show a large increase in reported health problems linked to pyrethroid and pyrethrin exposure over the last decade, with instances increasing 63 percent from 1998 to 2006. Additional data from the association show that the number of hospital visits resulting from pyrethrin and pyrethroid exposures is increasing and approaching the level caused by organophosphate exposures at their peak in the early 1990s, according to the CPI report.

Medical studies have suggested that people with ragweed allergies and those with asthma may be especially sensitive to developing skin or respiratory disorders following exposure to pyrethrins and pyrethroids. Children and infants are also more susceptible than adults to health problems, including neurological disorders.

Read the full report here.


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