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Pesticide Poisonings Show Toxicity of Common Pesticides

*July 14, 2008 Update: Officials have reported that the cause for poisoning of these Maryland residents was jimsonweed, not pesticides. Jimsonweed was found in the garden of the home where the stew had been prepared. Symptoms are similar to organophosphate pesticide poisonings. (Source: NBC4)

(Beyond Pesticides, July 10, 2008) Showing just how toxic common pesticides can be, six people in Gaithersburg, Maryland who ate potentially contaminated stew have been hospitalized with probable pesticide poisoning. Reports say that mint leaves from a backyard garden that were in a potato stew are suspected to have contained organophosphate pesticide residues.

Unfortunately, the media is reporting this as a case of failing to wash produce properly, which does not address the root of the pesticide poisoning problem—that pesticides are hazardous and their uses cause harm. In fact, when EPA registers pesticides for use in food production, whether in the garden or commercial agriculture, it does not disclose or warn the public about pesticide residues or require the washing of treated food commodities, and it does not point to the availability of nontoxic alternatives.

The Washington Post reports, “In a textbook illustration of the importance of thoroughly washing plants and vegetables before eating them, authorities said the people who ate the potato stew became nauseous and dizzy, in some cases suffering hallucinations and convulsions.” Washing produce may reduce residues and potential exposure to pesticides, however, pesticides are often systemic, either taken up into the plant through the root system or absorbed into the plant tissue after surface treatments. Organic gardening and eating organically grown food are the best solutions for stopping pesticide poisoning and contamination.

Organophosphate pesticides are extremely toxic to the nervous system. They act as cholinesterase inhibitors by binding irreversibly to the active site of acetylcholine esterase (AchE), an enzyme essential for normal nerve impulse transmission, thus inactivating the enzyme. Poisoning symptoms include numbness, tingling sensations, headache, dizziness, tremor, nausea, abdominal cramps, sweating, lack of coordination, blurred vision, difficulty breathing or respiratory depression, and slow heartbeat. Very high doses may result in unconsciousness, incontinence, and convulsions or fatality.

Despite numerous organophosphate poisonings of farmworkers, homeowners, and children, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has allowed the continued registration of these products. In some cases, such as those of chlorpyrifos and diazinon, household uses of the products have been cancelled because of the extreme health risks to children, but agricultural, golf course, and “public health” (mosquito control) uses remain. The cancellation of household uses does not restrict, however, the use of remaining stocks. That is to say, homeowners who purchased diazinon, for example, before the 2004 phase out, may still use this product.

Malathion, another common organophosphate, is still permitted for residential use as an insecticide and nematicide, even though all organophosphates have the same mode of action in damaging the nervous system. According to the EPA, approximately one million pounds of malathion is applied annually for residential uses.

Advocates argue that pesticide poisonings of this sort would not occur if the uses of these highly toxic pesticides were banned completely. Pesticide labels are ineffective in communicating the true toxic nature of products consumers falsely assume are safe. Beyond Pesticides advocates for the nontoxic care of lawns and gardens.

Source: Washington Post


2 Responses to “Pesticide Poisonings Show Toxicity of Common Pesticides”

  1. 1
    Dale Harmon Says:

    The symptoms of Organophosphate insecticide do not include hallucinations. The source of the poisoning has been found to be Jimson Weed.

  2. 2
    Dale Harmon Says:

    “Initially, investigators suspected that mint leaves from the garden, possibly sprayed with pesticide, might have been the culprit. County public health investigators returned to the house with a botanist, who quickly zeroed in on another plant in the garden.

    “He said, ‘Wow, this is jimson; that’s really poisonous,’ ” said Mary Anderson, a spokeswoman for the Montgomery Department of Health and Human Services. The plant had recently been cut, and investigators found leaf parts in the kitchen trash. The department received tests yesterday that confirmed the plant’s presence in the stew.

    The belladonna alkaloids found in jimson can cause serious neurological effects and can be fatal in high doses. The plant, which has long been used, and misused, as a medicine and intoxicant, is readily found in farm fields, Anderson said. It is more unusual for the weed to crop up in a suburban garden.”

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