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Scientists Examine Chlorpyrifos Levels in Potatoes

(Beyond Pesticides, December 20, 2010) A new study examines the residue levels of the organophosphate insecticide chlorpyrifos in Colombian potatoes, finding that residual levels of the pesticide are still present even after being cooked. According to researchers, the pesticide has a tendency to build up in the raw potatoes, but once they were cooked, the levels dropped by 14%, leaving a fraction of the allowable levels of chlorpyrifos in the potato, under European Union (EU) daily intake limits. While it may be true that there are relatively low residual levels of the pesticide found in the potato once it has been cooked, many adocates are concerned about the remaining residues. The study, entitled “Pesticide Uptake in Potatoes: Model and Field Experiments,” was published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

The fact that there remains some residual chlorpyrifos in the cooked potatoes is a concern because studies show that even at low doses, in utero exposure can cause changes in brain function and altered thyroid levels that last into adulthood. Young children are particularly susceptible to the effects of exposure. Because children’s diets often include significant quantities of potatoes, this is particularly alarming in light of a recent study that found children have a higher dietary exposure to pesticides and take in a higher toxic load than previously thought.

The study also cites detectable levels of other pesticides used to grow potatoes, including DDT, still in the soil in the potato fields. If they are still detectable in the soil, then they may still leach into groundwater or be ingested by wildlife and proliferate in the natural environment. This only further supports those seeking to eliminate the use of toxic chemicals that may still be present in our food and soil generations after it has been banned.

Chlorpyrifos, though allowed by the EU, is not registered for use on potatoes grown in the U.S. or imported into the country. It continues to be used, however, for other agricultural purposes. In October of this year, Beyond Pesticides and over 13,000 other organizations sent a letter to the EPA, calling for a ban on chlorpyrifos and a phase out of other organophosphate (OP) pesticides. Chlorpyrifos was phased out for residential use under a 2000 agreement between EPA and Dow Agrosciences but continues to expose farmworkers and consumers through its use in agriculture. EPA’s decision in 2000 and subsequent action removed chlorpyrifos’ residential uses but retains all agricultural uses except tomatoes (allowable residues on apples and grapes were adjusted), golf course and public health mosquito spraying. The agency argued at the time of its decision that it had adequately mitigated risks through the removal of high exposure uses to children in the residential setting, but ignored the special risks to farmworkers’ children, as well as the availability of alternative agricultural practices and products that made chlorpyrifos unnecessary and therefore its risks unreasonable.

Chlorpyrifos is a neurotoxic insecticide whose use was found to exceed acceptable rates of illness, especially to children. By focusing on risk reduction strategies to come up with “acceptable,” but unnecessary, rates of illness across the population, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has virtually ignored the chemical’s widespread use in agriculture, resulting in exposure to farmworkers, farm families and others living near agricultural areas. It is also a frequent water contaminant and a long range contaminant, exposing communities and contaminating pristine areas far from where it was applied. Short term effects of exposure to chlorpyrifos include chest tightness, blurred vision, headaches, coughing and wheezing, weakness, nausea and vomiting, coma, seizures, and even death. Prenatal and early childhood exposure has been linked to low birth weights, developmental delays, ADHD and other health effects.

What is truly of concern, however, is that this pesticide is used at all, considering its documented persistence in the natural environment and its detrimental effect on air and waterways. In addition to harmful residues in the food, there are many other things to consider with the use of toxic pesticides for food production. As can be seen in Beyond Pesticides’ Eating with a Conscience guide, the health of farmworkers and farm communities as well as the integrity of our soil, water, and other natural resources is put at risk by the practices of chemical agriculture, exemplified by this case.

The best alternative to these practices and the only way to know that you are not supporting chemical agriculture is to buy organically produced food. Beyond Pesticides advocates for the national conversion to organic systems planning, which moves chemicals off the market quickly and replaces them with green management practices. The effects that chemicals such as chlorpyrifos have on the natural environment, in addition to untold damage it has caused families across the U.S., is testimony to the need to adopt alternatives assessments that force chemicals off the market that can be replaced by safer or green practices. Despite agency efforts to use failed risk assessment decision making to claim that the food supply is safe and the environment protected, an informed public is driving the growth of organic production in the marketplace, choosing health and environmental protection over risk assessment. It is a process that can be supported through purchasing decisions everyday in the grocery store and advocacy that effects a conversion of land and building management in parks, schools, lawns and gardens, health care facilities, indoor and outdoor spaces to nontoxic and least-toxic methods. Visit our Organic Program page to learn more and to discover what you can do to support organic production.

Take Action: EPA announced earlier this month that it is seeking public comment until December 20 on a draft stipulation in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York that will suspend further litigation with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) on the claim that EPA has unreasonably delayed its response to their 2007 petition to cancel all uses and revoke all tolerances for the pesticide chlorpyrifos. Under the draft Stipulation and Order, the case will be suspended, provided (1) EPA issues a preliminary human health risk assessment for chlorpyrifos by June 1, 2011, and requests comment on that assessment; and (2) EPA sends NRDC and PANNA a written response to their petition by November 23, 2011. If the lawsuit is not reactivated by January 23, 2012, it will be dismissed. Comments for the draft Stipulation and Order and related documents can be submitted at Regulations.gov. Comments must be identified by the docket ID number EPA-HQ-OPP-2007-1005 at and received by the Agency no later than December 20, 2010.

Source: Chemical and Engineering News


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