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National Strategy Unfolds To Diagnose and Treat Pesticide Victims
(Beyond Pesticides, September 24, 2003)
Groups from throughout the nation met in June 2003 to strategize implementation of a plan that would give basic training to primary health care providers on the health effects of pesticides and the treatments and preventive strategies used to address those effects. The plan, called the Pesticides Initiative, is a 10-year strategy that was developed last year by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Environmental Education & Training Foundation (NEETF), in collaboration with the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Labor.

Now that the initiative is developed, the next step is selling the idea to general practitioners throughout the U.S., a problem that the June 2003 forum addressed. Forum participants included representatives from health care provider organizations, credentialing bodies, academia, government agencies, primary care providers, among others. Many pledged to encourage implementation of the initiative by working with their professional associations, decision-making authorities, and practice settings to integrate pesticide-related content into curriculum and practice. Several are seeking endorsements from national professional associations of the initiative's companion publications National Pesticide Competency Guidelines for Medical & Nursing Education and National Pesticide Practice Skills Guidelines for Medical & Nursing Practice, both published in January 2003 by NEETF. For more information on these publications, see the January 31, 2003 edition of Daily News.

Forum participants decided a key strategy to encourage widespread adoption of the Pesticides Initiative is to incorporate the education of pesticide health issues into a broader environmental health arena, and use the initiative as a model for addressing other environmental health problems. The Pesticides Initiative is "an excellent model to apply to other environmental health issues," says Leyla Erk McCurdy, senior director of NEETF. The implementation of the initiative will not only help primary health care providers address pesticides, but also, "practitioners and educators will have a larger understanding to address other kinds of exposures within the environment," according to NEETF president Kevin Coyle. For example, skills acquired to take medical histories from patients may be applied to diagnose and treat other environmentally induced health problems.

In addition, marketing issues were discussed. "A lot of this stuff will never trickle down unless we change marketing approaches," stated Amy Liebman, an environmental health specialist with the Migrant Clinician Network. She suggested employing the same marketing strategies used by pharmaceutical companies, such as targeting doctors through free samples, mailings, and other means to educate them about new products.

Other suggestions that arose included "pursuing consumer-based promotion of environmental health/pesticides messaging in tandem with caregiver continuing education, initiating discussion and coverage of the issue with leading physician and nursing societies, and creating educational opportunities through credentialing bodies and professional societies that influence providers' continuing education," according to the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

NEETF will conduct a six-month follow-up survey to assess the progress that participants make on their commitments and the short-term goals of the forum. Forum leaders expect full implementation of the initiative will be a long-term national effort.

The efforts of NEETF and the other collaborating groups of the Pesticides Initiative are sorely needed. According to the 2001 annual report of the American Association of Poison Control Centers Toxic Exposure Surveillance System, pesticides are one of the substances most frequently involved in poisonings, with more than 90,000 incidents reported for 2001. These pervasive chemicals can cause a number of health effects including nausea, dizziness, headaches, diarrhea, aching joints, chemical sensitivity, disorientation and inability to concentrate. Chronic pesticide exposure can affect fertility, development, and the onset of breast and prostate cancer, thyroid disorders, endocrine system disruption, learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder, neurological injury, and kidney and liver damage. It is alarming that knowledge by U.S. health care of treatment for such poisonings is minimal.

If you are a victim of pesticide exposure, please fill out a Pesticide Incident Record to fully document your exposure. Reports sent in around the country to Beyond Pesticides have provided a weighty and powerful testimony in support of reforming the nation's pesticide policies and practices. Please participate in this important process! Fill out and send Beyond Pesticides your report, or contact Beyond Pesticides for more information.