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The study, which was based on 170 studies from 140 countries, shows the human toll of modern pesticides worldwide. These natural and synthetic chemicals are used to control weeds, insects, and disease, but in the process pollute the air, water, and soil, compounding their harm to people. An estimated 3.5 million tons of pesticides were applied last year.
Why This Matters: We’ve been relying on old data about farmworkers’ exposure to pesticides for the past 30 years, and thus the full picture of the harmful impact of these products on people has been underappreciated. In that time, pesticide use has exploded, rising 81% worldwide (and as high as 500% in South America). Any single incident of pesticide poisoning can cause a person to be in pain and unable to work; in the long-term, it can lead to chronic disease. As Civil Eats writes, “The conclusions should alarm us all and kick policymakers into gear on long-standing commitments to crack down on the world’s most toxic pesticides.”
Limitations of U.S. pesticide monitoring
The U.S. alone applies about half a million tons of pesticides to crops each year. But the Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration, who are tasked with keeping tabs on how safe these chemicals are, use an approach that doesn’t adequately capture the risk. It’s common for farmers to spray multiple chemicals at once, but the agencies only assess risk one at a time. Many pesticides are harmful at very low doses, but the health impacts aren’t immediately apparent, which isn’t taken into account in current risk assessments. And no part of the monitoring program accounts for the harm to workers applying and farming with the chemicals.
Bad to worse
Under the Trump administration, harmful pesticides were reintroduced instead of regulated. One of the most shocking examples was the administration allowing chlorpyrifos, a chemical known to hinder brain development in children and harm farmworkers, to be used again.
To Go Deeper: Read the full Civil Eats interview with the study’s authors, Wolfgang Boedeker, an epidemiologist and board member of Pesticide Action Network-Germany; and Emily Marquez, a staff scientist with the Pesticide Action Network-North America, here.
There are about 1.7 million viruses that afflict mammals and birds, and about half of them could potentially infect humans, just like COVID-19, SARS, HIV, and Ebola. But a team of researchers at UC Davis are attempting to help prevent another pandemic from disrupting the world, by creating an app called SpillOver.
Why this Matters: The scientists creating the app believe that by creating a prioritized watchlist of viruses, we can better have improved detection and thus reduce the risk of disease transmission and maybe even preemptively develop vaccines, therapeutics, and public education campaigns for the viruses that pose the greatest risk.
A coalition of 63 health, wildlife, and environmental organizations has written a letter urging the Biden administration to adopt policies to combat the increased threat of zoonotic disease spillover into human populations. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, experts say that human population expansion and increased interactions with wildlife, present increased chances for future pandemics as well.
Why This Matters: According to the World Health Organization, there are over 200 known zoonoses, diseases that have jumped from non-human animals to humans.
Why This Matters: A study of 30,000 firefighters from 2010 to 2015 found that firefighters have an increased risk of many different cancers including: leukemia, malignant mesothelioma, bladder and prostate cancers, lung cancer, brain cancer, and digestive and oral cancers.
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