Consumer Reports’ new guidelines show you how to make the best choices for your health—and for the environment
How risky are pesticides? | What’s the evidence that pesticides hurt your health? | Who may be at greatest risk from pesticide exposure? | Does eating organic mean I won’t be eating any pesticides? | Should I skip conventionally grown produce? | Rules to shop by
Across America, confusion reigns in the supermarket aisles about how to eat healthfully. One thing on shopper’s minds: the pesticides in produce. In fact, a recent Consumer Reports survey of 1,050 people found that pesticides are a concern for 85 percent of Americans. So, are these worries justified? And should we all be buying organics—which can cost an average of 49 percent more than standard fruits and vegetables?
Experts at Consumer Reports believe that organic is always the best choice because it is better for your health, the environment, and the people who grow our food. The risk from pesticides in produce grown conventionally varies from very low to very high, depending on the type of produce and on the country where it’s grown. The differences can be dramatic. For instance, eating one serving of green beans from the U.S. is 200 times riskier than eating a serving of U.S.-grown broccoli.
“We’re exposed to a cocktail of chemicals from our food on a daily basis,” says Michael Crupain, M.D., M.P.H., director of Consumer Reports’ Food Safety and Sustainability Center. For instance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that there are traces of 29 different pesticides in the average American’s body. “It’s not realistic to expect we wouldn’t have any pesticides in our bodies in this day and age, but that would be the ideal,” says Crupain. “We just don’t know enough about the health effects.”
If you want to minimize your pesticide exposure, see the chart below. We’ve placed fruits and vegetables into five risk categories—from very low to very high. (Download our full scientific report, “From Crop to Table.”) In many cases there’s a conventional item with a pesticide risk as low as organic. Below, you’ll find our experts’ answers to the most pressing questions about how pesticides affect health and the environment. Together, this information will help you make the best choices for you and your family.
While health-conscious individuals understand the benefits of eating fresh fruits and veggies, they may not be aware of the amount of pesticides they could be ingesting along with their vitamin C and fiber. A new study published in the Feb. 5 edition of Environmental Health Perspectives is among the first to predict a person’s pesticide exposure based on information about their usual diet.
The study was led by Cynthia Curl, an assistant professor in Boise State University’s School of Allied Health Sciences. She recently joined Boise State from the University of Washington.
While Curl’s study is not the first to link organic produce with reduced pesticide exposure, the method she used may have significant implications for future research. By combining self-reported information on typical food consumption with USDA measurements, researchers will be able to conduct research on the relationship between dietary pesticide exposure and health outcomes in bigger populations, without needing to measure urinary metabolites.
“If we can predict pesticide exposure using dietary questionnaire data, then we may be able to understand the potential health effects of dietary exposure to pesticides without having to collect biological samples from people,” Curl said. “That will allow research on organic food to be both less expensive and less invasive.”
I would hope that after reading my first blog, some of you would have rushed out to replace your Hawaiian Tropic sunscreen with something that is a little bit better for your health.
Pesticides are a significant source of toxicity. People are exposed to pesticides via food and the environment in particular lawn care. While research is usually focused on massive pesticide exposure, low dose long-term pesticide exposure is difficult to capture. Not to mention the fact that pesticide residue has been linked to everything from hypospadias to decreased intelligence, learning and memory in children. Children are particularly vulnerable because of their immature organs, rapidly dividing and migrating cells, higher metabolic rate and smaller size.
Ways to decrease pesticide exposure.
1. Eat locally and organically. Summer is the perfect season to do this. Farmer’s markets are filled with everything from organic produce to baked goods and plants. Summer is also…
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New York City’s low-income neighborhoods and California’s Salinas Valley, where 80 percent of the United States’ lettuce is grown, could hardly be more different. But scientists have discovered that children growing up in these communities — one characterized by the rattle of subway trains, the other by acres of produce and vast sunny skies — share a pre-natal exposure to pesticides that appears to be affecting their ability to learn and succeed in school.
Three studies undertaken independently, but published simultaneously last month, show that prenatal exposure to organophosphate pesticides — sprayed on crops in the Salinas Valley and used in Harlem and the South Bronx to control cockroaches and other insects — can lower children’s IQ by an average of as much as 7 points. While this may not sound like a lot, it is more than enough to affect a child’s reading and math skills and cause behavioral problems with potentially long-lasting impacts, according to the studies.
“This is not trivial,” said Virginia Rauh, one of the study authors, speaking from Columbia University, where she is deputy director of the university’s Center for Children’s Environmental Health and professor of population and family health. What is particularly significant, she said, is that these studies involved so many children from such different communities, yet produced consistent evidence of the pesticides’ effects on cognitive skills and short-term memory
- Today In The News: Prenatal Pesticide Exposure Linked to Lower IQ (euzicasa.wordpress.com)
- Prenatal pesticide exposure linked to lower IQ in kids (ctv.ca)
- Prenatal pesticide exposure tied to lower IQ in children (eurekalert.org)
UC Riverside professor outlines risks of daily exposure to toxicants and advocates regulatory changes to protect public health
RIVERSIDE, Calif. – Americans are exposed to hundreds, if not thousands, of suspected toxic substances every day, substances that affect the development and function of the brain, immune system, reproductive organs or hormones. Children are the most vulnerable. But no public health law requires product testing of most chemical compounds before they enter the marketplace.
That must change, UC Riverside professor Carl Cranor argues in a new book, “Legally Poisoned: How the Law Puts Us at Risk from Toxicants” (Harvard University Press, 2011).
The current harm-based or risk-of-harm-based legal structure for regulating exposure to toxic substances is problematic, says Cranor, a professor of philosophy and longtime advocate of reforming U.S. regulatory policies. “Because most substances are subject to post-market regulation, the existing legal structure results in involuntary experiments on citizens. The bodies of the citizenry are invaded and trespassed on by commercial substances, arguably a moral wrong.”
Scientists are finding that every industrial chemical and pesticide produced today is capable of entering our bodies, says Cranor, who has served on science advisory panels for the state of California and on Institute of Medicine and National Academy of Sciences committees. For three decades he has studied U.S. regulatory policy and philosophic issues concerning risks, science and the law, as well as the regulation of carcinogens and developmental toxicants, and protection of susceptible populations from new and existing technologies and toxicants. His research has been supported by the National Science Foundation and University of California Toxic Substances Research and Teaching Program.
Cranor notes that the Centers for Disease Control has identified more than 200 toxicants in the bodies of average Americans, a number that he contends is low only because the CDC has not yet developed protocols to reliably identify other substances. [See National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals]
“The list is only going to grow over time,” Cranor says.
With the exception of pharmaceuticals and pesticides, the U.S. legal system permits most substances to come in without testing for toxicity, without knowing whether they cause cancer, birth defects, developmental effects, or reproductive effects. Only about 2 percent of 62,000 substances in commerce before 1979 have been reviewed at all for their toxicity by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, he says. Of the approximately 50,000 substances introduced since 1979, about 85 percent were allowed to market with no data concerning health effects.
Industrial, often toxic, chemicals are everywhere – bisphenol A used in plastic bottles and that lines cans of food; non-stick cooking surfaces or Gore-Tex material that contains perfluorinated compounds; curtains, baby car seats and TV sets manufactured with brominated flame-retardants; and countless cosmetic ingredients, industrial chemicals, pesticides, and other compounds, all of which enter our bodies and remain briefly or for years.
Chemical contamination is so prevalent, Cranor says, “that it will make future human studies more difficult; there will be no clean controls against which to compare people who are contaminated. We are all contaminated. It’s a question of more or less contamination. So it’s going to be increasingly difficult for the science to detect some of these effects in humans, when they exist.”
The legal process for identifying adverse health effects and removing the responsible substances from the marketplace is extremely slow, he says.
“The only way to reduce toxic contamination is to require testing of products before they come in to commerce,” he says. “If they appear to pose adverse health effects, they should not be permitted, or they should be required to be reformulated so the problems disappear.”
**Toxnet – databases on toxicology, hazardous substances, and environmental health
**ToxTown – Interactive guide to toxic chemicals and environmental health risks. Also in Spanish (ToxTown en español).
WEDNESDAY, Dec. 1 (HealthDay News) — Being exposed to pesticides over a long period of time might be linked to dementia, a new study of agricultural workers suggests.
The research effort included 614 vineyard workers in France who were in their 40s and 50s and had worked for at least 20 years in the agricultural sector. Their intellectual abilities were assessed twice, using nine tests designed to measure memory and recall, language retrieval, verbal skills and reaction time.
The workers’ exposure to pesticides during the six-year span of the study varied. About 20 percent were never exposed to pesticides and more than half had been directly exposed, which included mixing or applying pesticides and cleaning or repairing spraying equipment. The rest had either been indirectly exposed by coming into contact with treated plants or possibly indirectly exposed through their work in buildings, offices, cellars and the like.
On seven of the nine tests, workers who had been exposed to pesticides were most likely to do worse the second time they were tested, the researchers found. The study also reported that pesticide-exposed workers were up to five times more likely than the others to have lower test scores on both occasions and were twice as likely to show a drop of two points in the Mini Mental State Examination (MMSE), which tests cognitive functioning and is frequently used to determine if a person has dementia.
The decline in MMSE score “is particularly striking in view of the short duration of follow-up and the relatively young age of the participants,” Isabelle Baldi, of the Institute de Sante Publique d’Epidemiologie et de Developpement in Bordeaux, France, and colleagues wrote in the report published in the Dec. 2 online edition of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
“The mild [cognitive] impairment we observed raises the question of the potentially higher risks of injury in this population and also of possible evolution towards neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias,” the study authors added.
- Types of Pesticides (everydayhealth.com)
- Dangerous Exposure: Farmworker Children And Pesticides (Medical News Today)
Tsafrir Mor is a researcher at the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University.
The brain is forever chattering to itself, via electrical impulses sent along its hard-wired neuronal “Ethernet.” These e-messages are translated into chemical transmissions, allowing communication across the narrow cleft separating one neuron from another or between neurons and their target cells. Of the many kinds of molecules involved in this lively chemical symposium, acetylcholine is among the most critical, performing a host of functions in the central and peripheral nervous system. This delicate cholinergic design however is highly vulnerable. It can fall victim to inadvertent or deliberate poisoning by a class of compounds known as organophosphates—chemicals found in a range of pesticides as well as weaponized nerve agents.
Now Tsafrir Mor, a biochemist in the Center for Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology at the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University has shown that human butyrylcholinesterase (BChE), a so-called bioscavenging molecule, can be produced synthetically—from plants. Further, Mor and his colleagues have demonstrated the effectiveness of plant-derived BChE in protecting against both pesticide and nerve agent organophosphate poisoning.
The group’s research, recently reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS), shows promise not only for protecting the nervous system from the effects of organophosphates, but also for gaining a firmer understanding of acetylcholine-linked diseases such as Alzheimer’s Dementia and possibly for use against drug overdose and addiction, particularly cocaine. PNAS has selected the important paper as an Editor’s Choice…
Transgenic tobacco plant is used to produced human butyrylcholinesterase — a bioscavenger that helps clear acetylcholine from the nervous system.
This work was funded in part by the National Institutes of Health CounterACT Program through the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke under a consortium grant awarded to US Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense and contracted to Dr. Mor under a research cooperative agreement. It is a continuation of earlier work originally under support from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
In addition to Dr. Mor’s appointment with the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University he is a professor in the School of Life Sciences.
*Geyer BC, *Kannan L, *Garnaud PE, Broomfield CA, Cadieux CL, *Cherni I, Hodgins SM, Kasten SA, *Kelley K, *Kilbourne J, Oliver ZP, Otto TC, *Puffenberger I, Reeves TE, *Robbins N, 2nd, *Woods RR, Soreq H, Lenz DE, Cerasoli DM, *Mor TS (2010) Plant-derived human butyrylcholinesterase, but not an organophosphorous-compound hydrolyzing variant thereof, protects rodents against nerve agents. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, in press (available online at http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2010/11/05/1009021107) .
New stories about bedbug infestations are on the rise.
The good news is an increasing number of sources of great usable information, including the appropriate use of pesticides.
Some links from Enviro-Health Links – Pesticide Exposure (National Library of Medicine)
Top Ten Bed Bug Tips (US Environmental Protection Agency [EPA])
Preventing and Getting Rid of Bed Bugs Safely (PDF, 2 MB)
Understanding and Controlling Bed Bugs (National Pesticide Information Center)
- New York City bedbug battle goes digital (cnn.com)
- National Summit Tackles Bed Bug Problem (doyourpart.com)
- Manitoba funds bedbug strategy (cbc.ca)
- Bed Bugs Repelled By Repulsive Smell (Medical News Today)
Beyond Pesticides is a nonprofit organization provides information on pesticides and alternatives to their use.
The current home page features a video on how to control bedbugs without toxic pesticides.
Current alerts and actions include:
**Pesticide-Induced Disease Database with links to select scientific articles correlating a growing number of diseases with pesticides in the environment
**The Safer Choice with links to information on pesticide alternatives
**Organic Food: Eating with a Conscience which “urges consumers to consider impacts on environment and rural families and farm workers, in addition to pesticide residues, when making food choices”
Some of the tips below were new to me, as checking secondhand furniture.
On a related note, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) describe emerging public health issues associated with bed bugs (Cimex lectularius) in communities throughout the United States.
Bedbugs feed on your blood and cause itchy bites. Adult bed bugs are brown, 1/4 to 3/8 long, and have a flat, oval-shaped body. Young bed bugs (called nymphs) are smaller and lighter in color. Bedbugs hide in a variety of places around the bed. They might also hide in other places, such as in the seams of chairs and couches, between cushions, and in the folds of curtains. They come out to feed on blood about every five to ten days. But they can survive over a year without feeding.
To prevent bedbugs in your home:
- Check secondhand furniture for any signs of bedbugs before bringing it home.
- Use a protective cover that encases mattresses and box springs. Check it regularly for holes.
- Reduce clutter in your home so they have fewer places to hide.
- Unpack directly into your washing machine after a trip and check your luggage carefully.
- When staying in hotels, put your suitcases on luggage racks instead of the floor. Check the mattress and headboard for signs of bedbugs.
To get rid of bedbugs:
- Wash and dry bedding and clothing at high temperatures.
- Use mattress, box spring, and pillow encasements to trap bed bugs and help detect infestations.
- Use pesticides if needed.
The good news? Unlike some other pests, bedbugs don’t transmit and spread diseases.
[US Environmental Protection Agency]
(October 7th addition)
EPA has developed a search tool that can help you choose an EPA-registered bed bug product that meets your needs. You can search for a product by its:
- EPA-registration number
- Where you can use the pesticide
- Pesticide type
The BedBug Search Tool allows one to search by area of the house (as bedroom) and options as type of product.
- Tips on Checking for Bed bugs
Here are a few tips on how to check for Bed Bugs at home.
- Starting with the area closest to the bed, visually inspect using a good, strong flashlight. Check for bed bugs in the mattress and pillow seams thoroughly.
- Check for dark brown or reddish blood spots from the bed bug fecal droppings on all bedding surfaces (sheets, comforters, dust ruffles, mattresses, pillows).
- Slowly lift the mattress or box spring off the frame. Check the underside of the box spring– the most common hiding place for bed bugs. Remember, that fine mesh lining the bottom of your box spring is no match for bed bugs wanting to hide inside.
- Check for bed bugs along the top and underside of the frame carefully. This is a particularly favorite place for bed bugs as it is close to its blood meal (you) and is an undisturbed and well-hidden location on the bed.
- Clutter on the floors, closets, bookshelves, etc, are all good hiding places for bed bugs. Inspect these areas methodically and carefully.
- Inspect yourself and your family. Bed bugs typically, but not always, bite in a straight line. The bites appear red and swollen and may have a small dip in the middle, much like a mosquito bite. Beware it is difficult, even for professionals, to diagnose that a bite is indeed from a bed bug. And remember, not all family members will show signs of bed bug bites, even though they are being fed upon.
- Q&A: ‘Bed Bug Survival Guide’ Author Has Words of Wisdom (time.com)
- Ohio House passes resolution urging EPA to allow bedbug pesticide (dispatch.com)
- Beware bed bugs extermination scams (cbsnews.com)
- Top 10 Non-Toxic Ways to Control Bed Bugs(Maria’s farm country kitchen – WordPress blog)
- Dogs have a nose for bedbug detection (dispatch.com)
- Bedbugs can carry dangerous “superbug” bacteria, study says (cbsnews.com)
- Bedbug Revival 2011: What you need to know (scientificamerican.com)
- Bed Bugs Found Carrying Drug-Resistant MRSA – CDC Journal Study In Canada (ducknetweb.blogspot.com)
“Considered icky but not infectious, bed bugs now have been shown to carry drug-resistant bacteria. “