Comprehensive Review of Pesticide Research Confirms Health Dangers

After a comprehensive review of research on the effects of pesticides on human health, the Ontario College of Family Physicians (OCFP) strongly recommends that people reduce their exposure to pesticides wherever possible. The review shows consistent links to serious illnesses such as cancer, reproductive problems and neurological diseases, among others. The study also shows that children are particularly vulnerable to pesticides. The review found consistent evidence of the health risks to patients with exposure to pesticides. 

Principle Findings 

• Positive associations between solid tumours and pesticide exposure, including brain cancer, prostate cancer, kidney cancer and pancreatic cancer,among others.  

• 2,4-D and related pesticides are possible precipitants of non- Hodgkin’s lymphoma. 

• An association exists between pesticide exposure and leukemia. 

• “A remarkable consistency of findings of nervous system effects of pesticide exposures.” 

• Adverse reproductive effects including: birth defects, fetal death and intrauterine growth retardation from occupational exposure to agricultural chemicals. 

Pesticide Effects and Children 

Children are constantly exposed to low levels of pesticides in their food and environment, yet there have been few studies on the long-term effects of these exposures. Nevertheless, the College reviewed several studies that found associations between pesticide exposures and cancer in children. 

What the Public Should Do

The College’s overall message to the public is to avoid or reduce exposure to all pesticides whenever and wherever possible. This includes reducing both occupational exposures, as well as lower level exposures that occur from the use of pesticides in homes, gardens and public green space. 

What Family Doctors Should Do 

The College advocates that family physicians take the following measures: 

• Screen patients for pesticides exposure at a level that may cause significant health problems, and intervene if necessary. 

• Take patient pesticide exposure history when non-specific symptoms are present — such as fatigue, dizziness, low energy, rashes, weaknesses, sleep problems, anxiety, depression. 

• Focus efforts on prevention. 

• Consider high-risk groups (e.g. children, pregnant women, seniors) in their practices. 

• Advocate reduction of pesticide risk/use to individual patients.

• Advocate reduction of pesticide risk/use in the community, schools, hospitals and to governments. 

—Media Release from the Ontario College of Family Physicians The OCFP Study is available at www.ocfp.on.ca or www.spec.bc.ca 

Pesticide By-laws in 66 Cities

West Vancouver District Council will be joining three other Greater Vancouver municipalities, Vancouver, Port Moody and New Westminster, which have by-laws restricting the use of nonessential cosmetic pesticides on all lawns, gardens and public parks. The by-laws are preceded by education and information programs before they come into effect in 2006. Some 66 municipalities across Canada already have or are in the process of implementing by-laws to control cosmetic pesticides.

For more information see the SPEC website http: //www.spec.bc.ca/pesticides/ For model pesticide by-laws from other cities, and materials to mount a local campaign, see http://www.sierraclub.ca/ national/programs/health-environment/pesticides/pesticidebylaws/

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[From WS May/June 2004]

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