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Study Shows Newborns Benefit From "Ban" of Insecticides
(Beyond Pesticides, March 25, 2004) The federal phase-out of two organophosphate insecticides, chlorpyrifos and diazinon, in 2000 are benefiting newborn babies by increasing their birth size, according to a just-released study by Columbia University's Center for Children's Environmental Health, part of the Mailman School of Public Health. The study looked at the impact of the pesticides on fetal growth and found that women exposed during pregnancy had on average significantly smaller babies.

The study, which will soon be published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health Perspectives, involved a sample of 314 infants of African-American and Dominican women in low-income areas of Manhatten. The researchers measured the levels of the two insecticides in blood drawn from the umbilical cords at birth, both before and after the phase-outs, and correlated those levels with the babies' birth weight and length.

The study found that newborns with combined insecticide exposures in the highest 26 percentile had birth weights averaging almost half a pound less than infants with no detectable levels. There was also a highly significant inverse association between the sum of the two insecticides and birth length.

"This human study confirms the developmental impact, shown previously in animal studies, of these insecticides," said Robin M. Whyatt, an assistant professor at the Mailman School and principal author of the study. The fact that the ban was associated with such an immediate change in birth weight and length provides considerable evidence of cause and effect."

Despite headlines indicating the "banning" of chlorpyrifos and diazinon, the two previously most widely used insecticides (available in numerous household sprays) examined in the study were not actually banned. In 2000, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) negotiated a phase-out period for each chemical with the chief chemical manufacturers, Dow AgroSciences and Syngenta. Additionally, the agency did not mandate a special warning to be given to consumers during the phase-out period about the neurotoxic properties despite the known high risks to children, workers, wildlife and the environment (and uncertain risks due to gaps in relevant data).

For chlorpyrifos, an 18-month phase-out of sales of deleted uses was allowed along with a lengthy period, probably years, during which pest control companies and other applicators can use up existing stocks of the chemical. The diazinon phase-out continues today with sales allowed to continue through December 2004 and uses allowed until all stockpiles are depleted. The EPA decision did however result in a substantial reduction of exposure to the pesticides by January 2001, according to the study. Yet, both are still widely used in agriculture and continue to be found in the food supply.

The study research is part of a broader, multi-year research project started in 1998 and funded in part by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the EPA.

TAKE ACTION: Protect your own health by avoiding pest companies that use chlorpyrifos and diazinon. To find pest companies or consultants that avoid toxic pesticides see Beyond Pesticides’ Safety Source. Also, contact Mr. Michael Leavitt, EPA Administrator, by email, phone: 202-564-4711, or fax: 202-501-1470, and urge the EPA to stop using phase-outs that allow continued public and environmental exposure to pesticides despite the known harmful effects (even when used “properly”). Demand that the agency immediately take action on the whole class of organophosphates, which are considered to be the pesticide most likely to cause an acute poisoning, and stop allowing their re-registration with gaps in important data.