Dow and Chlorpyrifos: Making Brain-dead Babies a U.S. Legacy

 In 2000, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, banned the pesticides diazonon and dursban from homes, hospitals and other public venues. In spite of that, your unborn baby may arrive in the world unable to speak, see, learn or even survive.  

These two pesticides, based on the chemical component chlorpyrifos, were removed for use in homes and gardens, schools, day care facilities, parks, hospitals, nursing homes and malls in 2000. They were to have reduced use on food crops by the summer of 2001, and eliminated for controlling termites in new construction in 2004. The reduced use in food has yet to materialize.

dow fake pictureThe EPA, in issuing its ban, cited chlorpyrifos as a neurological toxin. Dow Chemical disagreed, citing its own, EPA-approved studies showing that chlorpyrifos product labeling provided "wide margins of safety for both adults and children". It nonetheless agreed to comply with the ban, and the argument seemed at an end.

The EPA, which usually determines toxicity via animal studies, had the opportunity to use humans to study chlorpyrifos, namely pregnant migrant workers and their children. The results showed that chlorpyrifos caused, among other things, low birth weights, severe and unusual birth defects (primarily to the size and circumference of infants' heads), motor and cognitive delays, attention deficit disorder, and an increased risk of neural tube defects. The neural tube is that portion of a fetus which later develops into the spinal cord and brain.

dangerIn spite of that, chlorpyrifos continues to be used, most recently in Washington state, where in 2005, orchards were sprayed with 226,400 pounds of chlorpyrifos, an organophospate. These organophosphate pesticides are currently being used by debt-ridden farmers in India to commit suicide thanks to multinational chemical corporations which have ruined the soil and U.S. agricultural subsidies that have made growing a non-profit enterprise in India.

Still, how did this continued use of chlorpyrifos in the U.S. happen, given its toxicity? As previously stated, the reduction in use never took place, thanks to chemical company lobbying. More important, state and federal agencies are still not requiring orchardists, or other food growers, to report pesticide use. Nor are these growers required to provide warning notifications to either field workers or residents about the dangers of chlorpyrifos.

Lastly, stockpiles of the pesticides, in city government warehouses, factory farms, school district supply centers, lawn care services, golf courses and property management firms, were never disposed of and continue to be employed until they run out. In government-speak, this is called a phase-out.

The 2005 episode is a prime example of how the EPA and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) - and other agencies charged with protecting the health of persons on American soil - are derelict in their duties. These failures to perform are largely Bush-administration lapses, driven by inadequate funding and a corporate bias that prefers to sweep health under the rug in preference to profits.

Case in point: in the last year, the USDA has suspended pesticide reporting and allowed the Food Animal Residue Avoidance Databank, or FARAD (which reports on pharmaceutical, environmental and pesticide contaminants in meat, milk, dairy and eggs), to fall by the wayside. 

Chlorpyrifos, first used as a nerve gas in WWI, is still one of the most widely used pesticides in U.S. agriculture. By doing so, we are treating migrant farm workers - and their children - as if they aren't as important as citizens. What the EPA, USDA and other government agencies fail to realize, however, is that the trickle-down effect also applies to food supplies. Anyone who eats is subject to gradual chemical poisoning, even if the immediate effects impinge primarily on immigrant workers and their children.

In 2003, former New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer successfully sued Dow AgroSciences, LLC (a subsidiary of the Dow Chemical Company) for $2 million for illegally advertising safety claims about its pesticide products in New York between 1995 and 2003. To get an idea of the impact that sum had on profits, in 2003 Dow Chemical reported Asian sales of nearly $4 billion. 

Even if a total U.S. ban on chlorpyrifos were instituted, it would not protect food supplies because Dow, lacking a U.S. market, would simply sell more of the pesticide in countries like China, India, Mexico, Chile and Argentina, where the chemical is legal. Since much of the U.S. fresh fruit and vegetable supply, and other foods, now come from these countries, Americans will not escape the prospect of rising levels of learning disabilities, ADD, ADHD, obesity, depression, cancer, and even infants so severely deformed their lives are threatened. The future strain on social welfare programs, medicine and education are incalculable, and all so that Dow Chemical Company can continue to make a profit.

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  • Posted on Oct. 17, 2008. Listed in:

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