Experts talk about chlorpyrifos: "We should not play Russian roulette anymore"

Chlorpyrifos It is a very unknown pesticide for public opinion. However, it is the chemical principle most used in agriculture of Spain and Europe to put an end to insect pests that threaten crops. This is due to its great effectiveness to kill bugs, but its problem is that it causes damage, sometimes irreparable, in the fetus and in the first development of children. Most of the numerous scientists consulted for this research point out that it negatively influences the evolution of the brain and nervous system, originating in many cases autism, attention deficit disorder with or without hyperactivity, obesity or the loss of points in the intellectual quotient of those affected.

We are publishing the first time that the European Commission will ban it for its adverse effects on health and the environment since January 2020, after it has been used in agriculture massively for more than half a century. In several countries of our European environment it has already been banned or has simply never been allowed to be used. Among them, we can cite the cases of Germany, Finland, Ireland or Sweden.

We collect here the testimonies of four experts who have studied the consequences of use of chlorpyrifos in agriculture, its presence in the food chain and how its abundant use has a pernicious impact on human health and the environment.

"Harmful effects for the IQ"

Barbara Demeniex is a professor of Biology at the Endocrine Regulation Laboratory of the National Center for Scientific Research in France. His scientific work focuses on the study of the evolution of thyroid hormones.

Barbara Demeneix

"The scientific evidence clearly shows that prenatal exposure to chlorpyrifos has harmful effects on the IQ and the thickness of the cerebral cortex.Chlorpyrifos is toxic to the central nervous system, that is, neurotoxic, and is an endocrine disruptor, especially for thyroid hormones, so this insecticide interferes with the normal development of the brain. "

"In 2012, it was shown that the thickness of the cerebral cortex is significantly reduced as a result of prenatal exposure to chlorpyrifos." Recently, French researcher Vincent Laudet has unequivocally demonstrated that chlorpyrifos is a chemical that alters the thyroid. He asks why it has not been banned. "

"In 2015, we calculated the economic cost of exposure to organophosphorus pesticides, with chlorpyrifos being the most widely used in the EU, and we discovered that this exposure is related to the loss of 13,000 million IQ points in Europe and 59,300 cases. of intellectual disability, which implies a cost of 146,000 million euros per year"

"Present in 80-90% of the population studied"

Vicent Yusà He is a doctor in Chemistry, professor at the University of Valencia and head of Public Health Laboratories of the Generalitat Valenciana. Much of his professional work focuses on analyzing the impact of pesticides on human health through the food diet.

"Currently, chlorpyrifos is one of the most used insecticides in agriculture in Spain. This massive use is reflected in the fact that it is one of the most detected in plant pesticide controls carried out in the European Union. Although the samples that exceed the maximum residue limit are less than 0.3-0.4%. On the other hand, its massive use implies that the Spanish population is exposed to chlorpyrifos residues, mainly through diet (in some areas and in some populations, inhalation of air also contributes to the exposure). Proof of this is that in the urinalysis that has been carried out in children, women or the population in general, the metabolite of chlorpyrifos is detected in 80-90% of the studied population"

"Most likely, the EU will ban chlorpyrifos in January 2020 because, compared to other insecticides, it is more dangerous to human health and has a greater negative impact on the environment than others. It is very powerful because it not only eliminates agricultural pests but also other animals and affects the environment. We should not play more Russian roulette with chlorpyrifos. "

"We study the impact it has on human health through diet. For the general population, we see that the main problem is exposure through food. We have analyzed their presence in the urine of children and it is true that in 90% of the cases chlorpyrifos residues were evident in the samples, although it does not represent a direct risk to health because the exposure does not exceed the level of safety. Exposure and risks are two different concepts. "

"Losses in the cognitive development of children"

Leonardo Trasande He is a pediatrician and an academic. He is recognized as one of the greatest experts in the empirical and theoretical study of children's health in relation to the environment. He is, among several academic positions, vice-dean of research of the School of Medicine of the University of New York in the area of ​​Pediatrics and is author of the book 'Sicker, Fatter, Poorer' ('More sick, fatter, poorer') , recently published.

QUESTION. Dr. Trasande, please tell the readers what we are doing wrong when we massively use organophosphorus insecticides such as chlorpyrifos in the production of our fruits and vegetables.

ANSWER. The essential problem is that agrochemicals damage children's brains and have a negative impact during pregnancy. One of the worst consequences is that pesticides cause the loss of points in the intellectual quotient of our children. When you look at the studies done by Columbia University, they show that exposure to chemicals is directly linked to the loss of cognitive potential. Chlorpyrifos is one of those pesticides that cause these losses in the cognitive development of children, and are perfectly quantifiable, we have many scientific evidence accumulated in that sense.

Q. In your book 'Sicker, Fatter, Poorer' (2019), you give many examples of multidisciplinary scientific studies that show that pesticides harm the health of people and animals, as well as harming the environment. What would you say to the authorities in Europe and the United States?

A. Unfortunately, a federal ban on organophosphorus pesticides, chlorpyrifos, and others is not being implemented in the United States. The main argument of the authorities is that pesticides are the only means to guarantee sufficient supply of agricultural products to the population. However, that is not true. First, there are alternatives that appear to be safer for health, and many studies show that today organic farming does not have to decrease the value of food production. The long-term consequences of the use of pesticides for human health and the soil can be catastrophic, and that should be taken into account by the authorities.

Q. The beginning of one of my reports on the repercussions of the use and consumption of pesticides could be as follows: "This article is not only about the valuations of activist radicals of the environment or of mad scientists, but it also deals with how to protect our capitalist system by safeguarding the intellectual quotient of our children. " What mistake would I make writing this?

R. Nothing at all, no error. We already have a number of trials that say that the loss of IQ points due to the use of organophosphorus chemicals means a loss of annual economic productivity of 319,000 million dollars in the United States and 163,000 million in Europe.

Q. How can we reduce our exposure to insecticides such as chlorpyrifos in our diet? Organic food is expensive and not everyone can afford it on a day-to-day basis.

A. In the first place, the authorities must regulate to reduce to the maximum the coexistence between the chemists and the population. Likewise, we should reduce the use of plastics in the food market. We can also eat organic foods. In fact, little by little we are putting pressure on the market so that there is more and more organic food in food stores. In the United States, hypermarkets are already placing organic and conventional foods at the same store exposure level. The market often mutates based on changes in consumer habits.

"The studies financed by the industry have more weight"

Axel Mie is a professor at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm in the Department of Clinical Science and Education. His scientific research focuses on the study of the effects of agricultural production methods on human health.

Axel Mie. (Ki Sös)

"It is obvious that many independent studies have found harmful effects on brain development, while corporate-funded research does not find such effects." The current evaluation of chlorpyrifos is based largely on hundreds of studies paid for by the Dow Chemical Company. That's how it works, this is well known. "

"The authorities should take into consideration all the evidence, also the academic studies. But, generally, the studies financed by the industry have more weight ".

"My opinion is that the permit to use chlorpyrifos will not be renewed because the existing evidence and the explicit evidence of its harm to human health and the environment are very strong." It will be more interesting to see how the European Food Safety Agency evaluates chlorpyrifos methyl, which is less studied and we still lack a lot of relevant information about it ".

A transnational journalistic investigation

The work has been coordinated by Nils Mulvad from Investigative Reporting Denmark. An aid from the Journalism Fund has partially paid for this work on chlorpyrifos. The following journalists collaborated in the investigation: 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 Marcos García Rey and Irene from Pablo Molinero, from El Confidencial.