Ontario Family Physicians Warn of Pesticide Dangers

12.02.01.Pesticide Debate200New review of pesticide research shows links between pesticide exposure and harmful neurodevelopmental, respiratory, and reproductive health effects

TORONTO, June 19, 2012 /CNW/ -

The Ontario College of Family Physicians (OCFP) is strongly recommending the public reduce their exposure to pesticides wherever possible, based on the findings of its second comprehensive review of research on the effects of pesticides on human health.

Released today, this review shows associations between pesticide exposure and various neurological and respiratory diseases, as well as reproductive problems. Covering 142 studies, the review also demonstrates that children are particularly vulnerable to pesticide exposures that occur during pregnancy. "Many of the health problems linked with pesticides are serious," said Dr. Margaret Sanborn, family physician, Assistant Clinical Professor at McMaster University, and one of the review's authors. "So it's important we continue to advocate for reducing exposure as the most effective approach." The review's findings suggest that increased vigilance is needed to minimize the exposure of pregnant women, children, and adults from all potential sources of pesticides, including dietary, indoor and outdoor air, water, and farm exposures. Common pesticides the public should watch out for include glyphosate, pyrethrins and atrazine. In Canada, several provinces and many municipalities have already mandated bans and phase-outs of various pesticides in the past several years, demonstrating a trend of reducing the public's unnecessary exposure to these harmful chemicals.

The OCFP supports a continuation of these bans as a way of reducing human exposure. Principle Findings of the Review: Many of the studies reviewed by the Ontario College show positive associations between pesticide exposure, across a wide age range, and deficits in child neurodevelopment, child and adult respiratory symptoms, and adverse reproductive outcomes. Some of these outcomes include: Neurodevelopment • Children are experiencing various neurodevelopmental problems, starting as newborns and continuing throughout childhood, that are associated with prenatal pesticide exposure. • In newborns, signs of exposure include abnormal reflexes, deficits in attentiveness to stimuli and irritability.i • Children up to age three show consistent reductions in the Mental Development Index, part of a scale used to assess development in young children.ii • In older children, attention problems such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and reduced overall IQ are more common in children who had higher levels of pesticide exposure during their mother's pregnancy. This can result in reduced school performance, increased behavioural problems, and reduced earnings in adulthood.iii Respiratory • There is evidence that exposure to pesticides is associated with the development of respiratory symptoms and some lung diseases. • In children, the findings point to an association between asthma and pesticide exposure, specifically maternal exposure during pregnancy.iv • Large studies of male and female farm employees show increased risk of asthma and identify specific pesticides (including 2,4-D and glyphosate) and several insecticides that are most associated with this risk. v • In adults, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is also associated with occupational exposure to pesticides.vi Reproductive • Pesticide exposure in utero has been associated with lower birth weight.vii • Lower birth weight can be predictive of long-term problems later in life, such as diabetes and heart disease.vii • One study from New York City found a significant increase in the birth weights of infants born after a household ban on two insecticides frequently used indoors.ix This helps illustrate the possible health benefit of pesticide bans within a few years of implementation. What the Public Should Do: Given the wide range of commonly used agricultural, home and garden pesticide products associated with health effects, the College's overall message to patients is to avoid exposure to all pesticides whenever and wherever possible. This includes reducing both occupational exposures, as well as lowering exposure levels at home. The College also advocates exposure reduction techniques such as:

• Reduce use of indoor and home and garden pesticides and look for alternative organic methods of lawn and garden care and indoor pest control.

 • If pesticides are unavoidable (such as in agricultural settings), ensure proper use of personal protection equipment and change clothes before coming into contact with others (so the pesticides do not come into the home, car, etc.).

What Family Physicians Should Do: The College is advocating that, where appropriate, family physicians counsel patients to prevent or reduce pesticide exposure in several settings:

• In preconception and prenatal visits, counsel patients to reduce pesticide exposure and help reduce negative birth outcomes, neurodevelopmental problems, and childhood asthma associated with prenatal pesticide exposure.

• Advise parents to minimize exposure of children of all ages by reducing use of indoor and home and garden pesticides.

 • Alert new parents to the risks of paraoccupational (i.e., take-home) exposures and the protective benefits of wearing personal protective equipment for patients that have unavoidable occupational exposure.

 • Educate patients in occupations at high risk of pesticide exposure about the health effects associated with these exposures; identify patients, such as those with asthma, sarcoidosis (a disease affecting the lungs) or COPD, who may have special vulnerability to pesticide exposure.

About the Ontario College of Family Physicians: The Ontario College of Family Physicians is a provincial chapter of the College of Family Physicians of Canada and is a voluntary, not-for-profit association that promotes family medicine in Ontario through leadership, education and advocacy. The OCFP represents close to 11,000 family physicians providing care for remote, rural, suburban, urban and inner-city populations in Ontario. The OCFP is the voice of family medicine in Ontario. At the heart of the organization is the building and maintenance of high standards of practice and the continuous improvement of access to quality family practice services for all residents of Ontario. NOTE TO EDITORS: The 2012 Systematic Review of Pesticide Health Effects is available on the OCFP's website at www.ocfp.on.ca.