Albion Monitor /News
[Editor's note: See also "Banned Pesticides Heavily Used in Third World" and our report from last March on how pesticides attack the immune system.]

New Pesticide Concerns Raised

by Judith Perera

(IPS) LONDON -- New British criticism of current research into the dangers of organophosphate (OP) based pesticides, could reinforce the case for a worldwide ban on the chemical, already linked to serious illness around the globe.

OPs -- basically the same chemicals used to make nerve gases -- have also been implicated as a probable cause of Gulf War Syndrome which has affected the health of thousands of British and U.S. troops who exposed to both pesticides and chemical weapons during the 1991 Gulf War.

Dr. Jamal has confirmed peripheral nerve damage in a number of people exposed to repeated low doses of OPs and said existing safety tests could not explain damage

A new British opposition Labour party paper calls for a moratorium on the use of OP products in sheep dips, a new licensing system which does not depend on manufacturers' toxicity data and health risk warnings on any OP products sold to the general public.

The document, titled "Dangerous Dips," and produced last month by the opposition spokesman on environmental protection affairs, Michael Meacher, criticises the British government for "failing to provide adequate and accurate advice on the potential dangers of exposure to OP users".

Meacher says the government has also failed to provide adequate and accurate advice on protective clothing, to provide adequate education for doctors on the known chronic effects of OP poisoning, or to commission a proper study of known cases of ill health following OP use.

The policy paper notes that both the National Farmers Union and the British Medical Association has been pressing in vain for further investigations.

The link between acute OP poisoning and nervous system damage have long been recognised. Symptoms include headaches, dizziness, nausea, blurred vision, urinary incontinence, abdominal pain, depression, insomnia, depression and memory impairment.

The toxic effect of OPs was originally thought to be due exclusively to its effect on an enzyme called acetyl cholinesterase in the nervous system. However Meacher's paper cites recent research showing that chronic nervous system damage can result from the effect of OPs on other enzymes. Standard tests for OPs poisoning monitors only cholinesterase levels and only identify acute cases.

Before they are licensed for sale in Britain, OPs are tested on hens to establish risk levels. The test involves measuring inhibition of another enzyme, neurotoxic target esterase (NTE). But experts are now questioning the validity of this test.

Dr. Goran Jamal at Glasgow University's Department of Neurology, who has confirmed peripheral nerve damage in a number of people exposed to repeated low doses of OPs, told British parliamentarians at a meeting earlier this year that he had "a big problem" accepting the hen test because it could not explain this damage.

NTE is "just one of hundreds" of enzymes involved, he says. "The credibility of this model should be challenged." Dr Timothy Marrs, a senior medical officer at Britain's department of health and an expert on OPs has also questioned the efficiency of the hen test.

Meacher's office says the policy paper will almost certainly be incorporated into the legislative program of the next Labour government, currently well ahead in the polls and facing an election by next spring.

And if Britain introduces these restrictions under a Labour government many other countries will be under pressure to follow suit.

Many still used in the Third World, although they are banned or severely restricted elsewhere

OPs are now widely used worldwide and have generally been substituted for the organochlorines (OCs), phased out over the past 30 years in the industrialised world after their traces were found deep in environmental ecosystems.

OPs were deemed to be less 'persistent' in the ecosystem and safer.

However evidence is now mounting in the West that OPs can cause damage to the nervous and immune systems after prolonged low-dose use or a single high dose exposure.

They can also cause serious psychological disorders including depression resulting in suicide. A recent study in Spain found higher suicide rates in areas where OPs are used intensively.

OPs have also caused concern in Egypt where cotton growing regularly use a range of pesticides, mainly OPs and related carbamates.

Researchers have reported neurological effects including sensory loss and a high level of psychiatric disorders as well as more general health problems.

Workers in the Colombian flower industry who are also exposed to OPs have reported high levels of miscarriages among women, respiratory illness and neurological problems.

If the British restrictions are put in place OP manufacturers are likely to seek to dump excess stocks in developing countries where regulations are less stringent.

This has already occurred with the OCs, many of which are still used in the Third World, although they are banned or severely restricted elsewhere.

In Colombia, for instance, of the 10 pesticides used in the flower industry two are classified by the World Health Organsiation as extremely hazardous, two as highly hazardous and five as moderately hazardous. They include several OCs.

Elsewhere in Colombia, endosuilfan -- an OC which is severely restricted in the industrialised world -- is still used widely used on coffee plantations although it was formally banned in 1995.

Currently developing countries face severe problems in disposing of obsolete stocks of hazardous pesticides. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that in Africa alone there are up to 20,000 tonnes and the total in developing states is estimated at over 100,000 tonnes.

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Albion Monitor December 3, 1996 (

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