DDT and Malaria

As I work my way through the Master’s in Public Health at Benedictine University, I find myself part of a live conversation about the role of pesticides for or against the public health.  Even those in the field of Public Health can be confused because the messaging about use of pesticides has been dominated by industry.  The following is part of my conversation with a classmate about the use of DDT in the developing world:

I am very interested in your discussion of malaria incidence and pesticide spraying, particularly when you say this:

Regarding this fact, I would also be curious to know, as well, which other conditions are impacted by the decreased use of DDT. What about cancer rates? Malaria is not something that I have recently seen in the news, or reported in my county, or the counties that I work in. I wonder if there are other factors responsible for the increase?

Since my own daughter died of leukemia we have every reason was caused by mosquito spraying without our knowledge and permission, this is a personal question, but one on which I have done extensive research — I’m actually working on a book on the subject.  Research does suggest that there is a much higher incidence of cancer because of extensive exposure to pesticides.  There are myriad sources for this information, but two of the most credible and conclusive are the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) (Roberts 2013) and the President’s Cancer Panel (PCP) (2010).  Both point out that cancer rates, particularly for children, are climbing far too high because of exposure to toxins like pesticides.  Both argue that regulation for chemicals is virtually non-existent and that individual citizens must campaign for their own safety and welfare.  It is also a well-known fact that mosquitoes have gained resistance to DDT over time. The harms of DDT have been known since Rachel Carson published Silent Spring in 1962, but her warning has rarely been heeded, both because it is difficult to assign cause to individual cancer cases and because of the unbelievable power and corruption of the major chemical companies.  I say that despite the fact that (or perhaps because) my husband works for one of those companies as a chemical engineer.  They have far too much power to manipulate governments worldwide so that those governments work for the industry’s own interests, not for the common good.

That said, there is a different calculation of risk in countries where malaria is endemic vs. the U.S. Because of its terrible persistence and bioaccumulative properties, DDT spraying is probably not the answer, but other solutions, like spraying with less toxic pesticides or having treated bed nets, may well be worth the risk.  But an honest calculation of the risks cannot be done by the pesticide companies or their political lackeys, as has sometimes been the case previously.

It is important to be aware of possible benefits, as well as document liabilities, of using pesticides.  But the bottom line is that we use far too much, far too often. As Rachel Carson said more than 50 years ago,

It is not my contention that chemical insecticides must never be used. I do contend that we have put poisonous and biologically potent chemicals indiscriminately into the hands of persons largely or wholly ignorant of their potentials for harm. We have subjected enormous numbers of people to contact with these poisons, without their consent and often without their knowledge. If the Bill of Rights contains no guarantee that a citizen shall be secure against lethal poisons distributed either by private individuals or by public officials, it is surely only because our forefathers, despite their considerable wisdom and foresight, could conceive of no such problem.

–Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

We could do so much better, both in the more developed and in the less developed worlds.

References

Carson, R.  (1962). Silent Spring.  New York: Houghton Mifflin.

Roberts, J.R. (2013). Policy statement: Pesticide exposure in children. American Academy of Pediatrics 130(6), e1757-1763.  Retrieved from http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/130/6/e1757.full

President’s Cancer Panel (PCP) (2010).  Reducing environmental cancer risk: What we can do now. Retrieved from http://deainfo.nci.nih.gov/advisory/pcp/annualReports/pcp08-09rpt/PCP_Report_08-09_508.pdf

Does Your Child’s College or University Use Pesticides?

Over the past year and a half, we have written to every college and university to which our son has applied, asking about their policies on pesticide use in dorms, in classrooms, and on lawns.  It is worth asking.  The great majority of Universities do apply toxic chemicals to lawns and routinely spray pesticides in dorm rooms.  They take these chances with students’ health and increase their body burden because it is easier to spray pyrethroids indoors or 2, 4-D outdoors than it is to use heat treatment for bedbugs, boric acid bait traps for indoor pests, and organic amendments for lawns.

We thought we had found the perfect school for us: Edgewood College in Madison, WI.  Now we are aware of few universities that are as good as Benedictine, most notably, Harvard. All parents need to speak up and let administrators know that our children’s health is much more important to us than an unmarred swath of green lawn.  The American Academy of Pediatrics, The President’s Cancer Panel, Midwest Pesticide Action Center, and many other non-profits all make clear that we must speak up to protect our children because US regulations fall far short of doing so.

One Worried Parent:

Dear President Flanagan–

I am the parent of a new student at Edgewood College, and I am not as happy about it now as I expected to be before our Admissions date. You may not hear that very often because the professors were impressive, the staff friendly, and the Dean I met extraordinarily responsive. The reason may seem small, but it is very important to us, and can be easily changed for the better, so that is why I am contacting you: it does require leadership from the top.

One of the main reasons we chose Edgewood, almost the only reason it first caught our attention, was its commitment to sustainability, and more particularly its avoidance of lawn chemicals. I first contacted Susan Serrault in January of 2014, as we did all schools to which my son was applying, to ask about pesticide use on campus. We were thrilled to hear that nothing was used on lawns, and that they were willing to pilot non-toxics in the residence halls. She and Jim Lorman met with us personally then, and they assured us that our son would not be exposed to pesticides. We have continued to communicate over that time period, particularly commending Edgewood’s enlightened policies.

The reason this matters to us so much is that our first-born child, Katherine, died of leukemia we have every reason to believe was caused by mosquito spraying without our knowledge or permission.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recently issued a statement on pesticides that is conclusive in its condemnation of their widespread use:

Chronic toxicity end points identified in epidemiologic studies include adverse birth outcomes including preterm birth, low birth weight, and congenital anomalies, pediatric cancers, neurobehavioral and cognitive deficits, and asthma. These are reviewed in the accompanying technical report. The evidence base is most robust for associations to pediatric cancer and adverse neurodevelopment. Multiple case-control studies and evidence reviews support a role for insecticides in risk of brain tumors and acute lymphocytic leukemia. Prospective contemporary birth cohort studies in the United States link early-life exposure to organophosphate insecticides with reductions in IQ and abnormal behaviors associated with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and autism.

The highly credible President’s Cancer Panel is equally vocal in condemning widespread use of pesticides, attributing much of the skyrocketing cancer rates to these unwitting exposures:

The entire U.S. population is exposed on a daily basis to numerous agricultural chemicals, some of which also are used in residential and commercial landscaping. Many of these chemicals have known or suspected carcinogenic or endocrine-disrupting properties. Pesticides (insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides) approved for use by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) contain nearly 900 active ingredients, many of which are toxic. Many of the solvents, fillers, and other chemicals listed as inert ingredients on pesticide labels also are toxic, but are not required to be tested for their potential to cause chronic diseases such as cancer.

We were shocked, therefore, to arrive on campus this summer and see signs that the lawns had just been treated. We know you must get complaints about the appearance of dandelions, but the solution is not to spray poisons across campus; it is to advertise the virtues of organic lawn care more widely.  The Chicago Park District did this beginning in 2009, and received very few complaints because signs educated visitors that it was for their health and welfare. Now you will know that at least some people prefer dandelions to toxic chemicals, and we likely feel more strongly about it because the evidence and risk-benefit calculations are with us.

I am a professor at Benedictine University in Lisle, Illinois, and recently headed up efforts to make the switch to organic lawns. There may be some challenges, but Harvard and others have excellent organic lawn-care programs for others to imitate.  I hope you will agree that it is not in keeping with the Catholic values of stewardship and sanctity of life to broadcast acknowledged poisons where so many people live and work.  It is also not in keeping with Pope Francis’s recent Encyclical Laudato Si‘.  Quoting Patriarch Bartholomew, he says “For human beings… to destroy the biological diversity of God’s creation;… for human beings to contaminate the earth’s waters, its land, its air, and its life – these are sins”.[15] For “to commit a crime against the natural world is a sin against ourselves and a sin against God” [16] (Francis 2015, 8). In his own words, Pope Francis indicts chemical contamination of this sort: “Industrial waste and chemical products utilized in cities and agricultural areas can lead to bioaccumulation in the organisms of the local population, even when levels of toxins in those places are low. Frequently no measures are taken until after people’s health has been irreversibly affected” (21).

In part because of my daughter’s death, I have shifted my teaching and research interests to environmental public health and would be happy to share resources, to provide more information, or to meet with you. We obviously still think Edgewood is a great place, or we would not be sending our beloved surviving child there.  But we think it could be even better with a stronger commitment to both sustainability and human health. I urge you to forgo pesticide applications at Edgewood College in coming years.

Thank you!
Jean-Marie Kauth, PhD
1-630-393-0416
jkauth@ben.edu

Resources:

AAP

http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/130/6/e1757.full

President’s Cancer Panel

http://deainfo.nci.nih.gov/advisory/pcp/pcp08-09rpt/PCP_Report_08-09_508.pdf

Midwest Pesticide Action Center

http://midwestpesticideaction.org/


Pope Francis, Laudato Si’
http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html

President’s Cancer Panel

http://deainfo.nci.nih.gov/advisory/pcp/pcp.htm

CDC Biomonitoring Project

http://www.cdc.gov/exposurereport/

EPA

http://www.epa.gov/enviro/html/emci/chemref/

Environmental Working Group’s “Ten Americans”

http://www.ewg.org/kid-safe-chemicals-act-blog/kid-safe-chemicals-act-10-americans-video/


Chicago Park District

http://midwestpesticideaction.org/what-we-do/maintaining-healthy-parks/

Thirteen Years

Thirteen years ago today, Katherine died of a preventable disease after exposure to pesticides sprayed for mosquitoes without our knowledge or permission.  The evidence of that continues to accumulate.  But the evidence was sufficient when Rachel Carson published Silent Spring in 1962, long before she was born.  How much longer are we going to choose to poison our children?

A00051

DDT Exposure In Utero Directly Linked to Breast Cancer Development Later in Life

(Beyond Pesticides, June 19, 2015) A new study directly links exposure to dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) in utero to the development of breast cancer later in life. Published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, the study looked at data that were taken from a California program that evaluated samples from women during 1960s, when DDT use was popular. DDT is known to be an endocrine disruptor, and is linked to serious health effects. Although DDT has been banned for many years, residues still linger in certain areas of the U.S. and continue to cause environmental and health hazards….

Please read the rest of this article at Beyond Pesticides: http://www.beyondpesticides.org/dailynewsblog/?p=15909

Non-stick Toxins

Today, in a New York Times editorial, Nicholas Kristof illustrated why chemical contamination is such a terrible problem:

PFASs are “a poster child” for what’s wrong with chemical regulation in America, says John Peterson Myers, chief scientist of Environmental Health Sciences, a research and publishing group in Virginia. PFASs are just about indestructible, so, for eons to come, they will poison our blood, our household dust, our water and the breast milk our babies drink.

Warnings of health risks from PFASs go back half a century and are growing more ominous. In May, more than 200 scientists released a Madrid Statement warning of PFAS’s severe health risks. It was published in Environmental Health Perspectives, a peer-reviewed journal backed by the National Institutes of Health.

The scientists cited research linking PFASs to testicular and kidney cancer, hypothyroidism, ulcerative colitis and other problems.

Arlene Blum is a chemist whose warnings about carcinogens have proved prophetic. In recent years, she has waged an increasingly successful campaign against modern flame-retardant chemicals because of evidence that they also cause cancer, but she told me that PFASs “are even a bigger problem than flame retardants.”

The chemical industry acknowledges that older, “long-chain” PFASs are a problem but says that it is replacing them with “short-chain” versions that should be fine. It’s true that there is less evidence against the short-chains, but that’s perhaps because they have been studied less.

Americans expect that chemicals used in consumer products have been tested for safety. Not so. The vast majority of the 80,000 chemicals available for sale in the United States have never been tested for effects on our health.

Any testing is being done on all of us. We’re the guinea pigs….

The chemical lobby is following the same script as the tobacco and lead lobbies a generation ago, throwing around campaign donations and lobbying muscle to delay regulation. The chemical industry spent $190 million lobbying in the last three years. If only it would devote such sums to developing safer products, rather than to defending its right to produce suspected carcinogens.

This is an openly acknowledged truth that we nevertheless fail to see: we are allowing industry to poison our children and all children to come, every day, at the same moment we profess to love them.  Why do we tolerate this evil absurdity, this murderous injustice?  Let us do all we can to change this tragic reality.

I invite you to read the full article at http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/04/opinion/nicholas-kristof-chemicals-in-your-popcorn.html?src=me&module=Ribbon&version=origin&region=Header&action=click&contentCollection=Most%20Emailed&pgtype=article

Love Your Dandelions!

If dandelions were rare and fragile, people would knock themselves out to pay $14.95 a plant, raise them by hand in greenhouses, and form dandelion societies and all that. But they are everywhere and don’t need us and kind of do what they please. So we call them “weeds,” and murder them at every opportunity. Well, I say they are flowers, by God, and pretty damn fine flowers at that. 

— Robert Fulgham

dandelion-field

Avoid using chemicals on your lawn, and call your city to find out if they spray for mosquitoes (The CDC recommends larvaciding with BT rather than adulticiding, which is less effective and exposes citizens to health risks). 

The highly credible American Academy of Pediatrics released an official Statement on Pesticides in 2013 explicitly linking pesticide exposure to childhood cancers and cognitive effects:

Chronic toxicity end points identified in epidemiologic studies include adverse birth outcomes including preterm birth, low birth weight, and congenital anomalies, pediatric cancers, neurobehavioral and cognitive deficits, and asthma. These are reviewed in the accompanying technical report. The evidence base is most robust for associations to pediatric cancer and adverse neurodevelopment. Multiple case-control studies and evidence reviews support a role for insecticides in risk of brain tumors and acute lymphocytic leukemia. Prospective contemporary birth cohort studies in the United States link early-life exposure to organophosphate insecticides with reductions in IQ and abnormal behaviors associated with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and autism.

The President’s Cancer Panel supports these findings with their report on Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk, and exposure to landscape chemicals and other pesticides is one of their main targets:

The entire U.S. population is exposed on a daily basis to numerous agricultural chemicals, some of which also are used in residential and commercial landscaping. Many of these chemicals have known or suspected carcinogenic or endocrine-disrupting properties. Pesticides (insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides) approved for use by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) contain nearly 900 active ingredients, many of which are toxic. Many of the solvents, fillers, and other chemicals listed as inert ingredients on pesticide labels also are toxic, but are not required to be tested for their potential to cause chronic diseases such as cancer.

The report provides evidence that the burden of cancer is far higher than it should be:

Despite overall decreases in incidence and mortality, cancer continues to shatter and steal the lives of Americans.  Approximately 41 percent of Americans will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives, and about 21 percent will die from cancer. The incidence of some cancers, including some most common among children, is increasing for unexplained reasons.

The report also concludes that children, both current and potential, are at far higher risk than adults:

Children of all ages are considerably more vulnerable than adults to increased cancer risk and other adverse effects from virtually all harmful environmental exposures. In addition, some toxics have adverse effects not only on those exposed directly (including in utero), but on the offspring of exposed individuals.  Numerous environmental contaminants can cross the placental barrier; to a disturbing extent, babies are born “pre-polluted.” Children also can be harmed by genetic or other damage resulting from environmental exposures sustained by the mother (and in some cases, the father). There is a critical lack of knowledge and appreciation of environmental threats to children’s health.

Another resource for reducing chemical exposures is The Midwest Pesticide Action Center at http://midwestpesticideaction.org/

Dandelion image002

For more information, visit

AAP

http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/130/6/e1757.full

President’s Cancer Panel

http://deainfo.nci.nih.gov/advisory/pcp/pcp08-09rpt/PCP_Report_08-09_508.pdf

Midwest Pesticide Action Center

http://midwestpesticideaction.org/

PubMed

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/

President’s Cancer Panel

http://deainfo.nci.nih.gov/advisory/pcp/pcp.htm

CDC Biomonitoring Project

http://www.cdc.gov/exposurereport/

EPA

http://www.epa.gov/enviro/html/emci/chemref/

SCARCE

http://www.bookrescue.org/scarce/default.asp?page=SpatchHealthy Schools Campaign

Healthy Schools Campaign

http://www.healthyschoolscampaign.org/

EPA.  Pesticides and their impact on children: Key facts and talking points.  http://www.epa.gov/oppfead1/Publications/pest-impact-hsstaff.pdf

Environmental Working Group’s “Ten Americans”

http://www.ewg.org/kid-safe-chemicals-act-blog/kid-safe-chemicals-act-10-americans-video/

Spirit Magazine Articles

I thought some readers might be interested in this pair of articles in Spirit Magazine about my work on environmental issues:

Excerpts from

Fostering Diversity with a Professor/Environmental Activist by Fadwa Al-Taher

Spirit: In closing, what would you like to share with our readers that has not been covered thus far? What would you say right now if you were standing in a room filled with thousands of diverse women from around the world waiting to be intellectually stimulated by your pearls of wisdom?

Jean-Marie Kauth:JMK_photo2-1 Don’t poison your children! Don’t let anyone else! I recommend reading and being educated about these things. Our regulatory agencies aren’t doing their job; they aren’t protecting us. Unfortunately, that means that every single parent has to independently research and learn how to protect their children from environmental harm. That’s impossible to do completely; every baby now born is born pre-polluted. Under the Toxic Substance Control Act, only six substances have ever been banned since 1978. One was asbestos, and that was overturned in court. Asbestos is not illegal despite the fact that an estimated 10,000 people per year die of the exposures. People are trying to say it’s not harmful, and those people are just plain lying. Corporations are ruling our country. Since Citizens United and McCutcheon, corporations have undue influence in our elections. The New York Times recently did on exposé on the way Republican Attorneys General have been bought off by the fossil fuel industry. Corporations have an economic interest in controlling what our elected government officials do. They don’t apparently care if they poison our children. Both Sandra Steingraber and Devra Davis have written excellent books on this subject. The Environmental Working Group, Midwest Pesticide Action Center and Pesticide Action Network provide excellent resources as well. People do not know all the crooked, corrupt things corporations are doing, so companies are able to continue getting away with it. Why are we not holding chemical companies responsible? There are strict rules for some things; for example, McDonald’s can be sued for serving hot coffee. In some cases, people are able to sue over the smallest harms. But enormous crimes are perpetrated, people are killed by tobacco and environmental chemicals en masse, and there is no recourse. So many people have to die to prove a statistically significant correlation, especially because we don’t have a control group. We know for a fact that these pesticides are causing children to die of cancer, but we can’t say which ones. I can say with great certainty that my daughter’s illness and death was caused by pesticides, but we can’t prove it because we could not see inside her cells in real time. I’m glad I’m getting a Master’s in Public Health, because while the emphasis in that field on prevention is excellent, public health has also made some really disastrous mistakes, like saying mosquito spraying is a good idea to prevent some infectious disease while they are not looking at the total impact from the chronic exposures. We know how many people died of West Nile virus. We don’t know how many people died of mosquito spraying because you can’t easily link it to cancer.  We should consider this; We should be notifying residents. Katherine was very special, the smartest and most loving person I ever knew, and she paid such a terrible price for other people’s ignorance. She wanted to live the typical age for women – 78: “Don’t I even get to live to the average age for men?” she would plead. She was aware she was dying and aware of all she would be missing. No child should have to pay that price for green lawns or bug-free days.

Merchants of Doubt

Years ago, when I was putting together a symposium on climate change at Benedictine, a top climate change scientist, when asked if he would debate climate change for a live audience, said no quite definitely, and referred me to Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway to explain why.  Representing as a debate the basic science on climate change — it is occurring; we are primary causes — misrepresents the truth because the consensus of science shows that the debate is over.  Now, scientists are investigating changing mating seasons of squirrels in the Canadian arctic; improved models for predicting rainfall in the Midwest; number of people killed by excess heat waves in Europe; and a million other subsidiary problems premised on established science on climate.  Merchants of Doubt shows how a handful of scientists, many well funded by industry, have employed debate and doubt in the popular media to stall policy changes on issues ranging from tobacco to pesticides to ozone-layer thinning to climate change.  Devra Davis makes a similar case for cancer-causing pollution like tobacco smoke and pesticides.  Both these works recognize the similarities amongst different kinds of science denial — all motivated by greed.  Although the New York Times just gave the movie version mixed reviews, chiefly because of its unrealistic optimism, I highly recommend the book on which it is based. 

If you have wondered why, if environmental health impacts are so dire and children are dying, we are not doing more, this is one highly credible explanation.

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