Chemicals, Kids and what we as parents butt-up against as we try to raise healthy children in a toxic world.
Alf is a entrepreneur activist, ethical investor, and developer of regenerative businesses. He is a founding director of several enterprises which have achieved annual revenues ranging from three hundred thousand to twenty million dollars. Alf is the co-founder and co-director of Miessence the worlds first certified organic range of skin care, cosmetics, and nutritionals and co-founder of the Organic Farm Share. I have certainly learnt much from him about growing ethical businesses and the organic industry.
Come and learn about health and the body, toxicity, how you can start and grow a successful organic business, build a passive income and have a positive impact on our planet. CLICK ON THE IMAGE BELOW FOR DETAILS, OR TO RESERVE YOUR SEAT AT THE EVENT, OR FOR MORE INFORMATION, CLICK HERE.
Over the next few months we are staying (and working) on many organic farms both in the US (where we currently are) and across the Atlantic in the United Kingdom. After growing up on industrial farms – predominately fruit farms – and expereincing some of the rough conditions of farming life, I was not inclined to stay on the farm when I finished highshool. My early memories of farm life are of pulling pesticide spray hoses behind my grandpa’s big John Deer tractor on Saturday mornings; smelling the white powder residues in my hair and the taste at the back of my throat; and the ongoing anxiety of the adults as they watched the weather in the hope that the fruit wasn’t going to be damaged by hail or drought or bugs.
It wasn’t until I had kids of my own that farming, or specifically organic farming and knowing where our food comes from was rekindled.
This is what we do around our organic farm from day to day. It’s very different from my childhood farming life.
Every morning Adiva collects the eggs, and strategically chases the chickens back into their grazing area. A cheeky rooster called Clancy seems to lure his ladies out for a night on the town most nights. We make sure that they have enough food and their clucking boxes are clean and comfy.
We then help out with the milking of the cows in the barn. Saffron the dairy cow has large pretty eyes. She follows the farm apprentice Mike, a chef from interstate who wanted to learn more about where food comes from, into the milking shed by herself. She patiently waits for someone to brush her honey coloured coat. Her udders are washed with warm soapy water and then she settles down for some hay while Mike milks. After Saffron is back in the paddock with her red clover we collect some of her raw milk to have with our breakfast – add to our morning tea, make butter with, scrambled eggs, pancakes or wizz-up a vanilla raw egg smoothies.
Later in the day and after Jeddabug has had her sleep, we emerge from our safari tent in the woods to weed the organic garden – bulb onions, lettuce, broccoli, kale and herbs. We pick strawberries and send blessings to the heavens that they are in season. The girls either help with the garden or play on the swing set beside the patch.
As the sun gets lower in the sky we feed the three happy young hazelnut coloured pigs in the paddock above the vegetable patch. They love their grain soaked in whey.
Sometimes we help move the sheep.
On Sundays we harvest the leafy greens, herbs and wild flowers for the farmers markets. Every twelve weeks the free-range broiler chickens are butchered on site in the outdoor kitchen where locals and local restauranters come, select and buy their chickens. They know where their meat comes from, the conditions the animals have been raised in, and where it has been butchered. In August some of the lambs will slaughtered and some more in November. Every week the ‘Cheese Man’ comes for the raw milk. Weeks, and sometimes months later, that milk comes back as cheese – usually sharp, crumbily and tasty. The blueberries will be picked next month, then the wild blackberries and raspberries. By that time, the broccoli and cauliflower will also be ready for harvest.
Adiva is learning a lot about where food comes from. How it is raised and grown without ‘icide’ chemicals. She knows that cows have more than one stomach (they have four if you can’t remember from primary school) but still can’t tell you what they do. She can make raw butter in a jar with the flick of her wrist and in about 10 minutes. Jeddabug now knows how to ‘baaaa like a sheep’ and cocks her head to the side she sees a baby lamb ‘ohhh cute’ she says. She searches for wild strawberries as good as the rest of us, but is not as finiky an eater. She will eat a strawberry bug and all.
We are all learning a lot about the relationship between animals, the land, and the local community. People here share. Recipes. An oversupply of vegetables. Maple syrup tapped straight from the tree in a nearby farm. I don’t know why, but being here I’ve discovered that the eggs somehow taste eggier, the cheese cheesier, the butter more buttery, and the greens I’m sure have more chloophyll in them than back home. This is the way food is meant to taste. We only eat what comes from the farm or local farms. I am surprised at how little we actually need. All meals are made from scratch and it there is such joy in their preparation and consumption.
As a once vegan, and still mainly vegetarian, I am still internally processing the butchering of animals on the farm. I appreciate the honesty of organic farming. I appreciate the transparency of it. I appreciate the relationship between animals and the land, the sustainability of it – grasses grow, animals eat the grasses, more variety of grasses come to life, animals poop out the grasses – top soil for the farm is produced and the earth replenished, animals are butchered or breed new life…and it all starts again. But the taking of life is still a sticking point for me. Maybe it will become clearer over the next few weeks?
This latest study is a very credible study that raises significant concerns about several pesticides that are used in Australia that may be contributing to Parkinson’s disease. Both paraquat and rotenone are registered pesticides in Australia, despite being banned in the European Union since 2007.
The Australia Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority website lists rotenone as a chemical nominated for review, because of ‘human health concerns’. Paraquat has been under review since 1997. We are wondering why it takes so long for Australia to ban pesticides banned long ago accross the globe?
Preparations are underway to send the first of four shipments of high risk, hazardous chemical waste (hexachlorobenzene – HCB) from Sydney to Denmark. The waste, from the Orica site at Botany in Sydney was created by decades of production of plastics and solvents. A deal between Australia and the Danish Government means the highly toxic waste will be disposed of at an incineration site in the south of the country.
HCB is a white crystalline solid which was commonly used as a pesticide and fungicide to protect seeds of wheat and for a variety of industrial purposes. It has been banned globally under the Stockholm Convention on persistent organic pollutants.
Because HCB is persistent and bioaccumulative, it stays in our environment and contaminates our food chain. HCB can cause severe health problems for humans and other wildlife:
We are exposed to HCB via:
Dr Mariann Lloyd Smith, Senior Adviser, National Toxics Network Inc. and co-chair of the International POPs Elimination Network spoke to the media about the issue. She says: “We’ve had the capacity to deal with it in the past. For over a decade we’ve had some of the state of art technologies dealing with our hazardous waste here”. “There is simply no excuse for Orica to be doing this”.
I was privileged to meet Dr Mariann Lloyd Smith for an interview last week as part of my post-doctorate research project and her knowledge in the area of chemical research and prevention is nothing short of amazing. I would recommend you listen to the fully story.
[IMAGE: Greenpeace environmental activists climb on to containers and use paint to protest at the Orica site at Port Botany. Photo: AP/Greenpeace[
This article was published in the October 2010 edition of Holistic Bliss Magazine ‘Your Magazine with Soul’. This is a monthly magazine distributed throughout Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast in QLD.
By Dr Sarah Lantz
‘What do I do for a living?’ I get asked. ‘I work in research. In projects where we slice and dice placentas and umbilical cords and examine the chemical compounds in them’. The response is often one of disgust, which is unfortunate because, dissecting the human body tells us a great deal about what’s in it – and what shouldn’t be there.
So what have we found in placenta’s and umbilical cords?
Lots of things. Waste by-products – pollution from incinerators, dioxin, teflon, heavy metals. Consumer products – sulphates, parabens, phthalates, fragrances, flame-retardants, plastics, preservatives. And probably the most disturbing of all are the industrial chemicals banned over 30 years ago. Most notably organophosphates – pesticides.
The evidence of health impacts from organophosphates continues to grow – links to Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy,[i] diabetes, asthma, chronic fatigue syndrome[ii]; birth defects, brain damage, infertility and cancer - prostate, mammary, breast, ovarian.[iii] The most recent data from 1139 children aged between eight and fifteen years old found that children with higher residue levels of organophosphates were roughly twice as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD, and generally higher rates of behaviour problems and learning difficulties[iv]
This evidence is not really surprising when you think about it. Organophosphates are designed to kill agricultural insects by disrupting (and destroying) specific neurotransmitters in the brain. Why would we think that they would do no harm to the human body, particularly to our babies and children given that are particularly vulnerable to environmental chemicals due to their lower body weight, metabolic rates, detoxifying enzymes and that they cannot not process or excrete toxins the way adults’ bodies do.
These recent research findings raise profound moral and ethical issues. They have also allowed my dream of a network of local organic farms across Australia to resurface. The ramblings my partner has humored over the years, is now less of a hopeful dream, and more of a critical necessity. As Richard Eckersley states, ‘The health and wellbeing of young people (and babies) is a critical measure of society for two reasons: in moral terms, how well a society cares for its weak and vulnerable is a measure of how civilised it is; in more pragmatic terms, a society that fails to cherish its youth, fails. It’s as simple as that’.
My mission is that someday every family is directly connected to their local organic farm, connecting them (and their children) to the land in which their food grown, minimising the mileage their food travels from farm to plate (max 200km) and consuming the real nutrition of food, not it’s frozen or warehoused state. That families know the people who produce their food and the animals that participate in the food system. That children grow up knowing what an eggplant is, a finger lime and tumeric; what produce is in season, and what we eagerly have to wait for. That we are true and responsible custodians of this beautiful earth. That we leave this planet in a better condition than we found it, and subsequently, our bodies in better health.
Dr Sarah Lantz (PhD) is a research fellow at the University of Queensland, mother, author of the bestselling book Chemical Free Kids: Raising Healthy Children in a Toxic World. Visit her blog www.nontoxsoapbox.com or go to www.chemicalfreeparenting.com for a copy of her book. She is also one of the pioneers of the first Organic Farm Shares in Australia where families are directly connected to their own organic farm. For more information go to: www.organicfarmshare.com.au. Or email us email@example.com if you are intertested in becoming involved in this venture.
[ii] Landrigan, PJ. & Garg, A. (2004) ‘Children are not little adults’, in de Garbino, JP (ed), Children’s health and the environment: A global perspective, A Resource Manual For The Health Sector, Geneva: WHO; Chap 2:3-16.
[iii] Maclennan, P., et al., Cancer incidence among triazine herbicide manufacturing workers. JOEM, 2002. 44(11): p. 1048-1058; Sass, J., Letter to the editor. JOEM, 2003. 45(4): p. 1-2.; Kettles, M.A., et al., Triazine exposure and breast cancer incidence: An ecologic study of Kentucky counties. Environ. Health Perspect., 1997. 105(11): p. 1222-1227.
[iv] Maryse F. Bouchard, David C. Bellinger, Robert O. Wright and Marc G. Weisskopf, ‘Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and Urinary Metabolites of Organophosphate Pesticides’, Journal of Pediatrics, published online May 17, 2010; DOI: 10.1542/peds.2009-3058
We spent the weekend at the Sydney Organic Expo amongst a pulsating sea of stall holders, selling organic produce: cheeses, skin care products, pulses, legumes, wines, chocolates, raw foods, probiotics, cloth nappies. I participated in a compost making workshop, hung out with baby animals, and presented two presentations to a packed audience about kids and chemicals.
I talked to many. Learnt a lot.
I met a man previously twice his size, 150 kilos, with cancer. He’s now quite different. ‘Cancer’ he said, ‘was a gift. Without it I would never have understood the importance of living enzymes, potent, fermented probiotics, or found the raw food movement. The cure’ he said, ‘is getting back to nature. It’s as simple as that. Given the right environment and the right nourishment, the body always heals itself’.
Talking to this man reminded me of a presentation by Czrelle, the maker of our fermented, predigested probiotic, InLiven (and the gluten free version Fast Tract). ‘The body is innately able to heal itself’, he said. ‘Cut your finger and it might take a few days to heal, but heal it will. Your finger (body) instinctively knows how to heal itself. Take away the element of time and people would be in awe of their wondrous bodies. The miracle of them’.
This too can be said of pregnancy. Pregnant women don’t have to get up everyday and think “grow baby…grow baby’” No. Our bodies innately know how to do this. It’s the same for producing breastmilk and for birthing. The best advice I had from a friend leading up to my birth was, ‘Get your head out of the way Sarah, your body knows how to do this’. And do it, it did!
At the expo I also met Jen who had recently overcome Crones Disease by using the ancient techniques of fermentation and of eating the whole foods people ate 100 years ago. ‘Think about dogs’ she said. ‘They instinctively know what they are doing. They bury their bones. They know their bodies need fermented foods and burying their bones starts the fermentation process. They dig them up when they need them’. ‘Fermentation is natures gift’ , she explains, ‘before we started adding preventatives’. This got more thinking more about fermentation and I vowed to follow-up with my Weston Price Foundation friends who are avid supporters of fermentation.
Another woman at the expo told me about a recent study with monkey’s at the Copenhagens Zoo. ‘The researchers put a pile of organic banana’s in their enclosure and another pile of ‘conventional’ banana’s,’ she told me. ‘And what did the Monkey’s do? They firstly ate the organic banana’s, skin and all. Then they went to the conventional banana’s. Peeled of the skin and ate banana inside’. Amazing!
I ate quinoa salad and raw dark organic chocolate, drank lots of fermented probiotics with spirilina and chlorella, convinced Jason to buy a super-duper Vitamix, ordered a copy of The Makers Diet which was recommended by plenty of people, made friends with the acai stand guys who gave me lots of freebie juice to keep me energised through the expo, presented two presentations at Speakers Corner and met wondrous people afterwards, signed lots of copies of my book, talked to many about their skin, their guts, their bodies, sold plenty of certified organic Miessence products and gave out an equal amount of samples. I met an earthy woman who came to my talk wearing an awesome t-shirt. It read – Stay safe. Stay home. Homebirth. I wanted one. And at the end of the weekend I bought my parents organic bree and rice crackers for them to snack on in their hotel. This was a thankyou gift for caring for our two chicks while we worked at the expo.
We will be there again next year!
Our friends at the National Toxics Network and WWF released a list of Australia’s most dangerous pesticides, more than 80 of which are prohibited overseas because of the risks they pose to human health and the environment. The list includes 17 chemicals that are known, likely or probable carcinogens, and 48 chemicals flagged as having the potential to interfere with hormones. More than 20 have been classified as either extremely or highly hazardous by the World Health Organisation yet remain available for use on Australian farms.
“Australians are at risk of being exposed to a dangerous cocktail of poisonous chemicals, many of which have been prohibited in other countries due to their risks to health and the environment,” said WWF spokesperson Nick Heath.
“Surely Australian farm workers, wildlife and ecosystems deserve the same level of protection as those in Europe or the United States.”
Jo Immig from the National Toxics Network said the list was evidence that Australia’s chemical regulatory system was failing to keep people and the environment safe from dangerous pesticides.
“European pesticides regulation is founded on a precautionary principle designed to give human health and the environment the benefit of the doubt,” Ms Immig said. “Here in Australia we have the opposite, where chemicals that are suspected of causing cancer and other health problems remain on the market for years.”
Mr Heath said the list was a warning that Australians were not being adequately informed of the risks associated with harmful pesticides.
“The pesticides regulator must recognise that while Australia may have unique wildlife and different farming conditions, the chemistry of these dangerous pesticides is the still the same. If smoking causes cancer in the US, it will also cause cancer in Australia – it’s the carcinogens that matter not the country,” Mr Heath said. “The list demonstrates just how far we are lagging behind the rest of the world. It’s time for us to catch up and give Australian farmers safer and better choices.”
Go to the National Toxics Network website to download the Toxic Pesticide Hit List
I loved this book. It’s not so much that the information is new to me, but that the writing is authentic, genuine, and committed to raising the profile of the everyday noxious chemicals we’re all marinating in. I also related to this book – written from one parent to another. It’s accessible. It’s a story…
The authors, Bruce Lourie, started one of Canada’s largest environmental consultancies, while Rick Smith is the current Executive Director of Canada’s Environmental Defence. In 2008 they shut themselves away and used their bodies as testing laboratories, to see how many toxins were in the every day products we use. Scientific experts helped them test for seven chemicals, to see how levels increased after nearly a week of living with everyday household products – from toothpaste to non-stick frying pans and tuna.
Listen to their interview with ABC ClassicFM. It’s great! And I would recommend the book!
Led by Maryse Bouchard in Montreal, researchers at the University of Montreal and Harvard University examined the potential relationship between ADHD and exposure to certain toxic pesticides known as organophosphates. The data from 1139 children aged between eight and 15 found that children with higher residue levels of organophosphates were roughly twice as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).
To be honest, the correlation is not so surprising. Organophosphates are KNOWN to cause damage to the nerve connections in the brain – they are designed to kill agricultural pests in this way. The chemical works by disrupting specific neurotransmitters in the brain. And many of these pesticides we use on our food production, are derivatives or variations, of the same nerve toxins we developed during WWII to KILL or immobilise ‘the opposition’.
Roughly 40 organophosphate pesticides are registered with the US Environmental Protection Agency for use in the US (we have more here in Australia) and around 73 million pounds of the pesticides were used in agricultural and residential settings in 2001. Although residential pesticide use is common, the US National Academy of Sciences found that the major source of exposure for infants and children comes through diet.
According to a 2008 report cited by the study, detectable levels of pesticides were found in a range of vegetables. A sample of produce tested found 28 per cent of frozen blueberries, 20 per cent of celery and 25 per cent of strawberries contained traces of one organophospate, know as malathion. Other types of pesticides were found in 27 per cent of green beans, 17 per cent of peaches, and eight per cent of broccoli.
The Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list highlights the worst agricultural contenders.
The take home message for parents is fairly simple – Buy certified organic, make sure to wash!
The EWG also offers the ‘Clean 15′ if buying all organic produce is not within your budget.
Maryse F. Bouchard, David C. Bellinger, Robert O. Wright and Marc G. Weisskopf, ‘Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and Urinary Metabolites of Organophosphate Pesticides’, Journal of Pediatrics, published online May 17, 2010; DOI: 10.1542/peds.2009-3058
Everyone knows that conventional fruit and vegetables are sprayed with chemicals (pesticides, fungicides, herbicides etc). My brothers and I grew up on apple and cherry orchards, picking and packing the fruit, so I know all too will the musty smell of these chemicals and the white residue on the fruit. Many people assume that they are safe ‘otherwise they wouldn’t be on the market’. Hmmm… Liz Hayes from 60 Minutes reports on a few particular chemicals, Carbendazim, a fungicide, and Endosulfan, an insecticide. Both are controversial chemicals due to their acute toxicity to the human body, potential for bioaccumulation, and role as an endocrine disruptors. Carbendazim is used predominately in Macadamia nut plantations in Queensland, and was included in a biocide ban by the European Union in 2009. Endosulfan is a organochlorine compound and banned in more than 62 countries, including the European Union and several Asian and West African nations. The 60 Minutes report shows images of the mutating effects of these poisons on people - physical birth defects, brain damage, infertility and cancer. As a Queenslander, they have been found are in our waterways, as close to home as Noosa in the Queensland Sunshine Coast (2 hours up the coast from Brisbane). CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE FOOTAGE.
Hazardous pesticides - CHOICE investigation reveals many chemicals freely available in Australia are no longer registered in Europe because of safety concerns.
Cockroach baits, termite and ant treatments, household surface sprays, flea shampoos and head lice treatments are just some of the products we regularly use in our battle against household pests – but many contain ingredients that could seriously affect our health and that of our children.
The downside of keeping your home pest-free is that chemical residues can linger in the air and soil, and on floors, carpets and indoor surfaces, where we can breathe them in or absorb them through the skin. Some chemicals can have immediate and acute poisoning effects, while others can accumulate and remain in our bodies for years, adding to our chemical load every time we give the kitchen surface a spray or the ant nest a dusting.
CHOICE found many chemicals no longer registered in the European Union (EU) or soon to be removed – either because they were deemed to pose a risk or insufficient information was provided to permit their use – are widely used in household insecticides in Australia. See below.
Chemical Class / family Approved for use in EU? Registered for use in Australia? Examples of household products containing chemical as active ingredient
Chlorpyrifos Organophosphate No Yes Cockroach baits, ant killer
Malathion/maldison Organophosphate No Yes Insect killer
Allethrin Synthetic pyrethroid No Yes Mosquito zappers and coils
Bioallethrin Synthetic pyrethroid No Yes Insect surface sprays
Bioresmethrin Synthetic pyrethroid No Yes Insect surface sprays
Permethrin Synthetic pyrethroid No (A) Yes – marked for review Fly/mosquito surface sprays, flea killers, pet shampoos and flea collars
Fenoxycarb Carbamate No Yes Flea and cockroach bombs
Pyriproxyfen Pyridine No Yes Cat flea collar
A) Insect products are no longer on the market; veterinary products will be removed by October 2009.
Even if the scientific evidence is not yet comprehensive, enough information is available to make us question our assumption that there are “safe” exposure levels of toxic chemicals. Rather than managing hazardous chemicals merely by restricting where and how they’re applied, CHOICE believes Australian regulators should broaden their focus and investigate a chemical’s endocrine disruption potential when assessing its toxicity.
We urge the Australian government to apply the precautionary principle to all chemicals and place the burden of proof on manufacturers and importers that a chemical is safe, rather than simply giving them the benefit of the doubt.
It must be safe… right?
Simply because a pesticide is available for sale doesn’t automatically mean it’s safe. “Numerous now-banned pesticides were once thought to be safe to use, but have since been implicated in many cases of cancer and other health issues,” says environmentalist and author Tanya Ha in the CHOICE book The Australian Green Consumer Guide.
However, currently registered pesticides still include substances known or suspected to cause cancer, neurological and reproductive problems, whether individually or as combination of compounds. For example, the pesticide endosulfan is banned in more than 50 countries but still permitted for use in Australia on various fruits and vegetables.
The products pictured below all contain chemicals that are no longer registered in the EU, and while we cannot state with certainty the reason why, even the fact there’s insufficient data for that chemical should surely be reason enough to avoid it. Some Australian insecticides contain suspected endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), a particularly nasty group of compounds, see Endocrine-disrupting chemicals, below. The problem in Australia is that our regulatory authorities regularly fail to adopt the precautionary principle when it comes to approving chemicals for use here.
Endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) disrupt the network of glands and organs in the human body that secrete hormones which regulate growth, metabolism, reproduction and physiological functions. EDCs can mimic or block a hormone, which is of particular concern for unborn babies as their development depends on availablility of certain hormones at certain times.
EDCs have been linked to health problems ranging from acute childhood leukaemia and other cancers to neurobehavioural effects, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), as well as effects on the reproductive and immune systems.
Speaking at the 2007 Consumers International World Congress in Sydney, Dr Michael Hansen, a US ecologist and expert on pesticides, named 57 pesticides of concern as endocrine disruptors, including allethrin, permethrin, bioallethrin, chlorpyrifos and malathion. “New studies show adverse effects at very low levels of exposure,” he said.
Conclusions of studies
Deregistered there, permitted here
The EU is widely recognised as the world leader in chemical regulation, employing a systematic approach to reappraising chemicals to ensure public health. For this investigation, CHOICE collaborated with Jo Immig, environmental scientist, author and coordinator of the National Toxics Network, who waded through pages of lists of chemicals to find which are no longer registered in the EU. “The EU information is almost impenetrable,” she says, “as if it were deliberately obscured so ordinary people can’t make sense of it easily.”
The European Union has no list as such of deregistered products, only a “non-inclusion” list, buried in annexes and very difficult to find. For the purposes of this investigation, we focused only on chemicals the EU has not approved for use in biocidal products. This includes pest control products such as insecticides.
Combing through this list, it is not easy to find out whether a chemical has been deregistered due to its potential effects on human health or the environment, as the list also includes chemicals for which no complete dossier is available. This is probably to avoid creating a list of banned products.
Europe leads the way
In 2006 the newly created REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and restriction of CHemicals) legislation created a single system for both new and existing chemicals, replacing 40 pieces of legislation that existed within the EU member countries. This system requires chemical manufacturers and importers to submit to the regulator a registration dossier that includes technical and safety data for each substance, new or existing (unless it’s specifically exempted).
“No data, no market” is a key principle of the European legislation, which means if a manufacturer or importer opts not to provide all the required toxicological assessments for a certain substance, it will no longer be included on the list of registered chemicals.
Australia lags behind
Australia’s approach to chemical regulation is very different from Europe’s and involves a multitude of authorities at various levels of government. The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) is responsible for regulating pesticides. On its website, APVMA assures consumers that new products are subject to “a rigorous scientific assessment” process before they are registered.
Older, registered chemicals undergo a review, but only if new information suggests there’s a risk. And the review process can drag on for years. For example, oganophosphates diazinon, chlorpyrifos and malathion/maldison have been under review for 10 years or more, despite suspicions about their safety.
Permethrin has just made it onto the list of chemicals for review in household chemicals, which could take years. Meanwhile, veterinary products and insect repellents containing permethrin will no longer be permitted in the EU from October this year. Befenthrin and bioresmethrin were reviewed by APVMA and a decision made to continue to allow their use in Australia. Neither are registered in Europe.
Questioned about the slowness of its review process, APVMA told us it had, as an interim measure, “significantly dealt with concerns” that led to the review of chlorpyrifos and malathion/maldison. In 2000, the concentration and package size of chlorpyrifos-containing products was restricted for household use, and the concerns that led to the review of malathion/maldison (toxicity of its breakdown products) had been “substantially addressed” and the number of registered products reduced. Neither review, however, has been finalised and products containing these chemicals, such as cockroach baits and insect killers, are still on the shelves. Why not err on the safe side and ban these chemicals altogether in products for household use?
Experts CHOICE contacted agree our regulatory approach needs to change. “Current regulatory practices give chemical manufacturers the benefit of the doubt,” says Dr Alison Bleaney, a Tasmanian GP and environmental campaigner. “Substances can be removed from the market only if their health impacts can be demonstrated with scientific certainty. This burden of proof needs to be shifted as products should not be on the market until they can be proven to be safe.”
Dr Liz Hanna from the Public Health Association Australia agrees: “When several high quality methodology studies indicate there are health hazards, and chemicals have consequently been withdrawn in other countries, we can’t understand why Australia is so slow in responding.”
Classes of chemicals
Organophosphates inhibit an enzyme, cholinesterase, required for normal nerve function in their target pests. They are more toxic than pyrethrins, pyrethroids and carbamates. Organophosphates such as chlorpyrifos and malathion/maldison are used in domestic pest control products in Australia. Chlorpyrifos has been banned in the US for domestic use since 2000, after authorities found unacceptable risks to children’s neurological and behavioural development. In 2007, under its Biocidal Products Directive, the EU decided to remove from the market pest control products containing chlopyrifos.
Pyrethrins and their synthetic derivatives, pyrethroids, also interfere with the nerve function of their target pests. Because of their low toxicity to humans and other mammals, synthetic pyrethroids such as allethrin, bioresmethrin and permethrin have long been hailed as safer alternatives to organophosphate pesticides. However, recent studies have highlighted problems with their long-term safety and endocrine disruptive effects.
Carbamate pesticides also work by inhibiting cholinesterase. Various carbamates are used in domestic pest control. In Australia, fenoxycarb is commonly found in ant killer and roach bombs. However, in the EU, insecticides containing fenoxycarb have not been approved for use in such products since September 2006.
Which is the least hazardous to humans?
At the very top of any label, the signal heading with a hazard warning indicates how poisonous a product is.
* No signal heading indicates the lowest hazard.
* CAUTION means it’s a low hazard with some potential for causing harm.
* POISON is the strongest warning, implying it’s a moderate hazard with a strong potential for causing harm.
The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) recently added a section to its website designed to assist consumers to choose a product that’s right for them.
Children the most vulnerable
The most common way people are exposed to pesticides is most likely ingestion from residues on fruit and vegetables – but exposure from household pesticide use is increasingly coming under the spotlight and may well have a greater effect, especially on the most vulnerable in the community: the very young and unborn children.
As environmental scientist Jo Immig points out in Working Together to Clear the Air, indoor air pollution is among the top five environmental risks to public health, and in particular one of the major threats to children’s health.
There are many reasons why young children are most at risk from exposure to hazardous chemicals, not just because they’re closer to the ground or because they tend to put things in their mouths. Children have a lifetime of exposure still in front of them and for some it can start long before birth, as some chemicals that can accumulate in our bodies are passed on to the next generation via the placenta or breast milk.
A baby’s skin and gastrointestinal tract is also more permeable, allowing easier absorption of chemicals in breast milk and water. And in proportion to their body weight, children take in more air, food and water – all potentially contaminated with chemical residues – than adults.
Pesticides are not the only problem
Phthalates are chemicals added to certain plastics to make them more pliable; they’re in a large range of household products ranging from tablecloths, floor tiles and furniture upholstery to rainwear, baby pants and toys. Studies have shown that phthalates can accumulate in the body and, in a pregnant or breastfeeding woman, even very small quantities can adversely affect the gender development of her babies.
Herbicides are also risky. Glyphosate, the active chemical in Roundup, has been implicated as a potential endocrine disruptor in concentrations 100 times lower than those used in agriculture. However, it’s highly promoted for use in the garden; our quarantine laws even require imported flowers to be dipped in a glyphosate herbicide.
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My resume looks something like this: mama, university lecturer and researcher [currently at the University of Queensland], nutritionist, writer, author, presenter, health coach, ethical business consultant, and all round chemical conscious parenting nut.
Along with our research grants, our Certified Organic Business allows us to expand Chemical Free Kids, conduct research, and explore conscious parenting, deliberate, non-toxic living. The products are raw, certified organic, potent and made fresh!
For more information, please email us: firstname.lastname@example.org