The word 'chlorpyrifos' sounds like medicine, a synthetic drug or a Greek basketball player. In principle, the common mortals do not know what it is.
But perhaps the reader is more interested in chlorpyrifos when we explain that it accompanies him in his daily life. It is present in the apples that it eats, in the pears, in the tangerines; he expels him when he goes to urinate or lives in the umbilical cord that unites the mothers and their babies inside the amniotic sac. It is a very powerful and effective insecticide to fight pests and, moreover, is the most used pesticide in agriculture in Spain since it began to be used in the 1980s in a massive way in crops.
Not only that, but more than 40 years have passed since the beginning of his application to gogo in our country to produce the fruits and vegetables that the reader and his family consume, the European Union will prohibit its use as of January of 2020 due to the risks implied by its use for human health, fauna and the environment, as they may have learned the collaborating media of this research from an official source of the European Commission.
This decision is petrol for NGOs dedicated to the environment and for scientists who for years have been denouncing and demonstrating with empirical studies that chlorpyrifos has very harmful effects for human beings and their environment. It has a great persistence in the body of people and in mainly aquatic media. "We already warned you for a long time …", could argue in the coming months if that veto is consummated.
The pediatrician and American scientist Leonardo Trasande explains to El Confidencial in a slow talk that chlorpyrifos, as an organophosphorus pesticide, causes serious problems in the cognitive development of children from the earliest childhood, and even in the prenatal stage if their mothers have had a high exposure to same during pregnancy.
This professor of Pediatrics at the University of New York and author of the book 'Sicker, Fatter, Poorer' ('More sick, fatter, poorer') tells how through his own studies and as such is also reflected in many different multidisciplinary essays From prestigious academic centers, Columbia University among them, it has been shown that chlorpyrifos is among the factors that cause in children many cases of autism, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorders, loss of points in the IQ or obesity.
A Trasande and his work came by the advice of Kistiñe García, expert in endocrine disruption of Ecologists in Action. In his work and after having analyzed official data, García warns that chlorpyrifos is the insecticide from which more waste is found in food analyzes carried out annually by the competent authorities. "It reminds me a lot of DDT, as it was also developed as an organophosphorus attack gas in World War II, as a nerve gas ", says the person in charge of the campaign against hormonal pollutants of Ecologists in Action.
Chlorpyrifos was developed and registered as a pesticide in 1965 by the American multinational Dow Chemical. Although in Spain it is being used abundantly, in several European countries its use is not authorized now or never has been. Does this happen in small and marginal states of the EU? Not exactly, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and five other countries are listed among those who do not trust the safety of chlorpyrifos for health and the environment that the agrochemical industry promises.
In response of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAPA) to questions from this medium, its technicians point out the following: "At present, there are formulations with authorized chlorpyrifos in 20 EU Member States". They argue that the convenience of pesticides such as chlorpyrifos is continually being reviewed in Brussels. They add that "all authorized formulations in each Member State are also reviewed; in Spain, the last revisions of the products have been made in 2015, 2016 and 2017, being the result of the favorable evaluation in all the evaluation areas ".
Effectively, Spain and the Mapama still authorize the application of chlorpyrifos in the products of our shopping basket through four different formulations manufactured and marketed by five companies, one of them is Dow Agrosciences Ibérica, the subsidiary in our country of the American multinational. All this happens despite the fact that the European Commission will ban this insecticide in just a few months. Meanwhile, the fields of lemons, oranges, olives, leeks and Swiss chard are still irrigated with this dangerous agrochemical.
Hundreds of cases of presence of chlorpyrifos in food
Levantine citrus farmers will have to give a thought to how to combat aphids or gray louse pests if Brussels finally bans chlorpyrifos for agricultural uses in all EU Member States. For decades, they have applied this pesticide to their orange, mandarin and lemon trees to ensure the harvest.
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 (This is the last year with consolidated numbers shared by the ministry). In addition, among the 4,677 tests where chlorpyrifos was sought, residues thereof were found in just 400 cases, 8.5% of the total. It has a large presence in the oranges, tangerines and bananas examined, but the ministry technicians detected it in up to 40 different food products. There is even reported a case of chlorpyrifos residues found in chicken eggs.
In those three years, from 2015 to 2017, until 19 samples examined exceeded the maximum residue limit authorized, according to the analysis of the data of this medium. Although the Ministry of Health nuanced El Confidencial, there were finally 17 cases, since "after applying the analytical uncertainty, two of them (of the three samples from 2015) were within legal limits."
Given the prevalence of citrus in terms of waste recorded by sampling, the three provinces of the Valencian Community are among the four with the most positive chlorpyrifos in the tests for the whole of Spain. He heads the Valencia list, where 153 cases were produced, and Alicante follows it, with 53.
The detection cases of chlorpyrifos are not limited to foods whose origin of production is Spain. Of the 400 positives registered in the databases provided by the Ministry of Health, up to 66 correspond to fruits and vegetables from other countries such as Egypt, Morocco or China.
"You can really say that the chlorpyrifos formulations are great at doing their job: killing insects. Farmers would not apply them if they did not work. There is the essential problem, the big challenge is to create a poison for insects that is not for humans", Argues Thomas Backhaus, professor of Toxicology and Environmental Sciences at the University of Gothenburg.
The diagnosis of the pathogenic and toxic consequences due to the intensive use of chlorpyrifos seems that now they are clear in Brussels after decades of looking the other way. Will the Spanish Government immediately transpose the Commission's decision into national law?
More than 30 experts warn of the threat
In recent months, the group of reporters who has taken a deep look at the chlorpyrifos pesticide issue has read thousands of documents, reports and scientific tests, has made about 20 requests for public information to EU and national authorities, has examined and analyzed diverse databases and has interviewed more than 30 experts from European and North American countries who have a consolidated track record in the study of the impact of the intensive use of agrochemicals for human and animal health and for the environment.
This journalistic work is neither a flower of a day nor does it have an activist bias. Essentially, reporters have investigated the harmful effects of chlorpyrifos, a pesticide used in world agriculture since 1965 and that in 2020, 55 years after being massively used, it will be banned by the European Commission for the threats it poses to living beings. ; 55 years later, nothing more, not less, according to today's news report.
We are aware that testing the harmful cause-effects of agrochemicals is not an easy task, because it is not so for scientists who, from a multidisciplinary perspective, are exclusively dedicated to this issue during their professional life.
That difficulty of making statements on the subject from the journalism forced us to be very rigorous and consult that range of sources referred to above. Medular was to converse and exchange multiple conversations with those who know to contrast the information and resolve doubts. We did this with more than 30 experts, including: Philippe Grandjean, professor of Environmental Medicine at the Southern University of Denmark and the Harvard School of Public Health of the USA; Vicent Yusà (Spain), Professor of Chemistry at the University of Valencia and Head of Public Health Laboratories of the Generalitat Valenciana; Leonardo Trasande (United States), pediatrician and professor at the University of New York; Barbara Demeniex (France), professor of Biology at the Endocrine Regulation Laboratory of the National Center for Scientific Research; Ketil Hylland (Norway), professor of Biosciences at the University of Oslo; Axel Mie (Sweden), professor at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm in the Department of Clinical Science and Education, and Thomas Backhaus (Sweden), professor of Toxicology and Environmental Sciences at the University of Gothenburg.
This long-term research work can enumerate a series of diseases and diseases caused by organophosphorus pesticides such as chlorpyrifos, among others: difficulties in the development of the cerebral cortex of newborns, attention deficit and hyperactivity in children, autism , diminution of points in the intellectual coefficient, alterations of the thyroid hormone, disruptions in the nervous system, obesity, infertility, memory loss and Parkinson's. The population most vulnerable to these injuries is that which coexists in rural areas with crops where organophosphorus pesticides are intensely applied.
A transnational journalistic work
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.