Pesticide Dietary Risks

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Introduction

Pesticide dietary risk is a function of six key factors:

• The frequency of exposure to a given pesticide in any given day;
• The number of pesticides to which a person is exposed per day;
• The level of each pesticide in the foods consumed in a day;
• The amount of each food consumed containing one or more pesticide residues;
• The toxicity of the pesticides in food consumed; and
• The timing of pesticide exposures relative to the person’s age and health status.

Historically, excessive dietary exposure and risk has been the predominant reason why the EPA has taken action to reduce the use of an already-registered pesticide. Likewise, the data required and depth of analysis conducted by EPA is far greater in the case of food use pesticides known to result in human exposures via residues in food.

Human Health Impacts

Even at low doses, pesticides can disrupt prenatal development and pose unique risks to infants, children, and adults with compromised immune systems or certain genetic polymorphisms (e.g., there is a genetic variant that reduces the body’s ability to metabolize organophosphate insecticides that increases risks 10- to 100-fold among certain individuals).

Common levels of exposure to certain organophosphate insecticides can reduce a child’s IQ by 4 to 7 points, a reduction comparable to that triggered by lead exposure levels common during most of the post-WWII period, until major steps were taken nation-wide to remove lead from gasoline and paint.

A growing body of evidence links prenatal and early-life pesticide exposures to heightened risk of autism, ADHD, asthma, food allergies, diabetes and overweight. The U.S. President’s Cancer Panel has suggested avoiding food grown with pesticides to decrease the risk of environmentally-induced cancers.

Developmental and cancer risks are especially worrisome for infants and growing children, because children eat more relative to their body weight than adults, and a child’s organs are less efficient in detoxifying pesticides than adults.

Exposure to pesticides is also a known-risk factor for women and men of reproductive age, because pesticides can undermine reproductive health and birth outcomes. For example, a joint report by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine reports that environmental chemicals such as pesticides can increase the risk of spontaneous abortions, certain birth defects, and undermine long-term neurological health.

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