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Researchers call for ban of many popular insecticides

A study suggests that exposure for pregnant women could come with great health risks for newborns

Photo (c) bluecinema - Getty Images
Insecticides may do their job around the house, but they could also be causing a slew of health problems.

In an effort to protect consumers’ health, a group of researchers from the University of California-Davis is calling for the ban of several common insecticides, known as organophosphates. The researchers are most concerned for pregnant women, as the chemical has been linked to developmental issues in newborn babies following exposure.

“There is compelling evidence that exposure of pregnant women to very low levels of organophosphate pesticides is associated with lower IQs and difficulties with learning, memory, or attention in their children,” said the study’s lead author Irva Hertz-Picciotto.

No level is safe

In recent years, regulations were put on organophosphates to help limit consumers’ exposure to the chemical. However, the researchers found that even levels originally considered safe aren’t safe -- particularly for pregnant women.

The study found that even low-level exposure to the chemical had massive health implications on newborns. Organophosphates get rid of insects by targeting their central nervous systems, which may be why many babies are experiencing neurological issues.

“Acute poisoning is tragic, of course, however the studies we reviewed suggest that the effects of chronic, low-level exposures on brain functioning persist through childhood and into adolescence and may be lifelong, which is also tragic,” Hertz-Picciotto said.

Consumers can be exposed to organophosphates through the air, drinking water, or food, which is why the researchers are advocating for a ban and a push towards more organic insect killers. Additionally, they are calling on officials to monitor drinking water for any traces of organophosphate.

Until a ban is possible, the researchers are hoping consumers make the switch to less toxic products to reduce the levels of organophosphate in the air. They are also pushing education initiatives for both healthcare providers and agricultural workers so that workers handle the chemical responsibly and consumers who are exposed to the chemical receive the best treatment methods.

Dangerous side effects

The dangerous side effects that come from exposure to widely-used chemicals have been widely documented as of late.

Glyphosate, a chemical found in many weed killers, has been making headlines recently. Not only has exposure to the chemical been linked to shorter pregnancies, but Monsanto, an agricultural company that produces Roundup, a commonly used weed killer, has been embroiled in lawsuits for the better part of two years.

Most recently, the company was sued by Dewayne Johnson, a 46-year-old school groundskeeper who developed Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma after exposure to glyphosate. Johnson is arguing that the chemical is behind is cancer diagnosis, and that Monsanto knew the chemical’s side effects but chose not to inform consumers.

Johnson was initially awarded $289 million in damages, until Judge Suzanne Bolanos voted to reduce the award amount by $211 million. Last week, Johnson agreed to accept the reduced settlement, leaving with a total near $78 million. Though Johnson accepted, Bayer -- Monsanto’s parent company -- is appealing the decision, as it is adamant that glyphosate does not cause cancer.

As dangerous as these chemicals are for humans, a recent study conducted by researchers at Cornell University found that consumers’ pets may also be affected. The study found that several popular dog and cat foods contain traces of glyphosate, though in doses that were considered to be safe for humans.

This was the first study of its kind, and the researchers were unable to determine any negative side effects that could impact the animals’ health over the long term.

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