Chlorpyrifos: one of the most dangerous pesticides you have on your plate and your body

Any chemical dose that damages the development of the brain is unacceptable, as explained by many scientists and doctors consulted. A pesticide that causes in children autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or loss of IQ points has been used to date and since the second half of the sixties in 20 countries of the European Union. Up to eight EU countries – including Germany, Ireland, Finland or Sweden – they have already banned it in past years or have never authorized their employment. Its use is also banned in California and in five other states of the United States.

The fruit baskets and your dinner plate have residues of that pesticide. Your urine expels them, as does 90% of children tested by scientists like Vicent Yusà, Head of Public Health Laboratories of the Generalitat Valenciana. Yusà tells it to the journalists and he reads in his articles.

It has a strange and little known name, but it is the most used pesticide in Spain and in part of Europe: chlorpyrifos. It is an organophosphorus pesticide that is very effective in combating insect pests in agriculture. So infallible is against bugs to ensure a good harvest that also it ends with the life of other animals, permanently pollutes the aquatic environment and harms human health.

"It has taken us a long time until we realized that chlorpyrifos is one of the most despicable chemicals"

According to the analysis of the databases of the Ministry of Health, Consumption and Social Welfare, chlorpyrifos is the most recurrent pesticide in the analyzed samples of agricultural products between 2015 and 2017. In addition, among the 4,677 tests, this pesticide appears in just 400 cases, 8.5% of the total. Has a great presence in oranges, tangerines and bananas examined, but it is used in almost 100 agricultural products in Spain.

"It has taken us a long time until we realized that chlorpyrifos is a of the most despicable chemicals", Aims Thomas Backhaus, Professor of Toxicology and Environmental Sciences of the University of Gothenburg. "Compared with glyphosate, the active ingredient of Monsanto's Roundup, chlorpyrifos has flown away from the detection of radars. When we apply herbicides such as glyphosate that kill the weed, people can deal with it because we do not have chlorophyll and it does not affect us directly. However, when we talk about insecticides, we have the problem that they affect the development of animals, including humans, "explains Backhaus.

The Commission will not renew the authorization for the use of chlorpyrifos because its harmful effects on health are very evident

The criticism and concern expressed by this Swedish academic are shared by other scientists consulted for this investigation. So much is the concern about the harmful effects of chlorpyrifos that there is a moratorium implemented by the European Food Safety Agency (better known by its acronym in English, EFSA) until January 31, 2020 to study and determine whether its use is definitively prohibited in agriculture or if its use is allowed as it has been happening for more than half a century. The producers of this pesticide, especially its first developer and marketer, the American multinational Dow Chemical Company, they press the competent authorities so that its use in Europe and North America will not be definitively lost.

They do it in vain, at least in the old continent. As we have learned exclusively from official sources in Brussels, the European Commission will ban the use of chlorpyrifos in all EU countries since the beginning of 2020. The source maintains the following: "The Commission will not renew the authorization for the use of chlorpyrifos because its harmful effects on health are very evident."

Following a request for public information sent to the Commission's Directorate General for Health by the reporters of this journalistic work, this body recently published official correspondence with Dow Chemical Company, the State Rapporteur (Spain) of the study on the moratorium or prohibition of chlorpyrifos, other countries, the curator Vytenis Andriukaitis and the general director Anne Bucher. From that correspondence emerged two reports, one of them confidential, in which it is basically suggested that this pesticide should not be authorized anymore.

Doctor in Chemistry Vicent Yusà He also affirms it. "We have heard in the halls of the European Commission that chlorpyrifos does not meet the requirements to renew its approval," says a spokesman for the NGO Pesticide Action Network Europe, based in Brussels.

Not only environmental organizations or consumers will applaud this community decision, so will many academics who have been developing research for decades on the pernicious effects on health in humans of organophosphorus pesticides, mainly chlorpyrifos.

Philippe Grandjean, Professor of Environmental Medicine at the Southern University of Denmark and at the Harvard School of Public Health in the USA, maintains that brain damage in children in relation to the consumption of chlorpyrifos have been widely tested. "By definition, you can not accept as tolerable any dose, however small, for consumption because it causes brain damage. The dose applied to food should be zero, "Grandjean argues.

Dow Chemical Company resists the prohibition and stops manufacturing and commercializing it. Your communication manager for Europe, József Maté, explains to the associated media of this research that a scientific study was already carried out in 2000 with laboratory animals in which four American academics did not appreciate any relationship between the nervous system alteration and exposure to chlorpyrifos. He adds that this trial was reviewed by official regulators from the United States, Australia, Canada and the European Union itself. "We believe that a second study of neurotoxicity is unnecessary, since the information generated by the work of 2000 is sufficient to conclude that there is no evidence that affects the development of the nervous system."

What we can not hide from the reader is the fact that that essay that this spokesman wields begins with: "Copyright © 2000 by The Dow Chemical Company." I mean, it was funded by the American chemical multinational.

An omnipresent pesticide

Since 2004, a group of researchers from Columbia University, led at first by Virginia Rauh, has been publishing scientific articles in which he demonstrates how the presence of chlorpyrifos affects the development of the fetus and the physical and mental development of children in their first years of life. Organophosphorus pesticides such as chlorpyrifos affect neuronal transmission, are endocrine disruptors, alter the normal development of thyroid hormones or cause reproductive problems, among other diseases. As a result, US researchers, through multiple tests conducted on children, have determined that organophosphorus pesticides they cause the loss of between 1.4 and 5.6 points in the IQ or great risks of diseases such as obesity when your mother has been very exposed.

The studies of Columbia University They caused the United States to prohibit the use of chlorpyrifos in residential gardens and in the interior of buildings. But that measure did not veto its use in agriculture.

And the reality is that it is not only the most used pesticide in Spain but also in many European countries. The EFSA brought together in 2016 the analysis of 76,200 food samples carried out in all the EU countries. They discovered that chlorpyrifos and chlorpyrifos methyl were present in 5.5% of the samples. In addition, the EFSA recorded that up to 847 analyzes exceeded the maximum residue limit (MRL) of that chemical substance.

The Danish Ministry of Environment conducted several studies in which found chlorpyrifos in the urine of nine out of 10 children and their mothers

Not only Valencian scientists have examined the urine of people to find pesticide residues that affect the health of people. In 2013, Swedish researchers found residues of chlorpyrifos in the urine of mature women, a social group that consumes a lot of fruits and vegetables, according to the scientists. The curious thing about this matter is that the pesticide has never been authorized in Sweden. The globalization of the markets provoked those results.

In Denmark, its use in agriculture is also not allowed. However, their Ministry of the Environment conducted several studies in which found chlorpyrifos in the urine of nine out of 10 children and their mothers. The Danish researchers pointed to the possibility of a direct connection between the intake of chlorpyrifos and the development of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in childhood.

One more example of many others that we have collected during the investigation. Professors at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) published last March an essay in which they linked autism and premature brain damage in California children who have had permanent exposure to chlorpyrifos in its prenatal and childhood stages. The study reveals that the risk of damage to the brain is increased when the mother has been exposed during pregnancy to fields where this insecticide was applied.

This scientific work has had so much weight that has led to the prohibition of chlorpyrifos in California, the state with the highest agricultural publication in the US. Five other states have already announced or decided on similar bans: Hawaii, Oregon, New York, Connecticut and New Jersey. At the national level, the Trump Administration has been blocking the end of the use of chlorpyrifos since 2017.

The 'lobby' of the multinationals

The evaluation of possible risks to health and the environment is very influenced by studies financed by producers of pesticides. The agriculture division of Dow Chemical Company, Corteva Agriscience, is the leading producer and marketer of chlorpyrifos in the world and also lends itself to these efforts to pressure public authorities to maintain their business.

In Europe, a former scientific member of EFSA, Marieta FernándezHe spoke openly to this newspaper about the industry's lobby: "Monsanto's pressure is tremendous for some 'papers' to be studied and others not. Our people do not want to be evaluated and they are withdrawn, they only want those who agree with their interests to be admitted. " He was referring in this case to the glyphosate herbicide. This researcher from the University of Granada has been demonstrating for more than 20 years through epidemiological studies that the exposure of people to agrochemical compounds have perverse effects on health. "We find pesticide residues in breast milk that is given to babies, in placentas, in semen, in urine … There is a great concentration of chemicals, a cocktail of substances that we ingest through vegetables and fruits that cause the cells to proliferate and form tumors. "

Outside Spain, many scientists are clear that the game of pressure of the industry does not benefit consumers precisely. "Producers play a role that is obvious and that is well known in the scientific community. The current evaluation of the EU regarding chlorpyrifos is largely based on in hundreds of studies funded by Dow Chemical", Aims Axel Mie, professor of the Department of Clinical Science and Education of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.

Axel Mie, his compatriot Christina Rudén and the Danish Philippe Grandjean, all of them dedicated to the investigation of environmental issues, started a scientific debate about chlorpyrifos that has led them to publish several essays. In a study conducted with rats, they revealed that chlorpyrifos had negative consequences on the development of the rodent's cerebellum. But nevertheless, his studies were not accepted by the community authorities in the dossier of the evaluation of that pesticide.

From its headquarters located in Illinois, Corteva Agriscience points out to El Confidencial: "Chlorpyrifos is one of the most studied crop protection products in the world and is authorized for use in more than 100 countries, including the US. its great business partners and in the EU. Policies must be guided by sound scientific studies and rigorous data. " Adds the chemical multinational that "more than 4,000 studies and reports endorse the product as safe for health and the environment. "

Official opacity

As reported above, the European Commission will prohibit the use of chlorpyrifos as of January 2020. Experts from Spain and Poland, since May 2017, have been responsible for preparing a new evaluation of chlorpyrifos irrigation. The enormous effort has led to a rethinking that has thousands of pages and occupies 87 MB of data published on the website of the European Food Safety Agency. However, not all documents are legible. The decision proposed by Spain and Poland is not accessible and can be seen as seen in the image:

If the EFSA legally justified its decision to keep the information opaque for European citizenship, it is necessary to remember that the Aarhus Convention, in force since 1998 and applicable in the EU since 2001, specifies that commercial interests can not prevail over environmental information and "Information about emissions that are relevant for the protection of the environment should be disclosed."

This circumstance was underlined by the Court of the European Union in March 2019, when it established that the EFSA could not hide information about the glyphosate herbicide.

Regardless of the risk factors of chlorpyrifos for human health and the environment, pediatrician and US researcher Leonardo Trasande tells El Confidencial that organophosphate pesticides cause such Loss of points in the IQ that greatly affect the economy. This vice-dean of research of the School of Medicine of the University of New York in the area of ​​Pediatrics and author of the book 'Sicker, Fatter, Poorer' ('More sick, fatter, poorer') argues that chemical exposure causes a annual loss of 319,000 million dollars in the United States and 163,000 million in Europe.

A transnational journalistic cooperation

The work has been coordinated by Nils Mulvad from Investigative Reporting Denmark. Partially it has been defrayed by a help from the Journalism Fund. The following professionals collaborated in this research: Stéphane Horel, from 'Le Monde', Anuška Delić, from 'Oštro', Staffan Dahllöf and Oluf Jørgensen, from Investigative Reporting Denmark, Louise Voller, from 'Danwatch', Eiliv Frich Flydal, from 'Dagblet', Wojciech Ciesla, from 'Newsweek', Pamela G. Dempsey and Brant Houston, from the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting, Kristof Clerix from 'Knack', and Irene from Pablo Molinero and Marcos García Rey from El Confidencial.