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(Lighting the Way to Less Toxic Living)


Pesticides and Cancer


by Gwen Petreman


The most convincing evidence that pesticides are carcinogens comes from epidemiological studies.  Farmers who frequently use 2,4-D have a six-fold increase in non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.  Scientists believe that the use of lawn chemicals such as 2,4-D has been a significant factor in the 50% rise in non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma over the past 20 years in the American population. (World health Organization. 2,4-D Environmental Aspects. Geneva, Switzerland, 1989.)  2,4-D has also been linked to malignant lymphoma in dogs.  Pets are exposed to higher doses of pesticides because they are closer to the ground where concentrations are the highest. Parts of their bodies, such as their scrotum and armpits, are often directly exposed to pesticides. They also ingest pesticides when they are grooming themselves.  Studies show that the risk of lymphomas doubled in dogs whose owners treated lawns four times a year.


The lawn pesticides, mancozeb and chlorothalonil have been classified by the EPA as "probable" cancer causing chemicals in humans, as they have been found to cause cancer in animals.  Mancozeb has also been found to react with sunlight to form a new compound the EPA categorizes as a "known" human carcinogen.  The common lawn pesticide 2,4-D has been shown to increase the risk of lymphatic cancer in farmers six times the normal rate, according to a National Cancer Institute report. (Sinclair, W. 18 Studies Show Why Pesticides Are More Dangerous than Previously Realized. Tampa, Florida)


A University of Iowa study found that working as a golf superintendent significantly increased one’s risk of getting non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, brain cancer, lung cancer, large intestine cancer, and prostrate cancer.  Other experts are starting to find that golfers, and non-golfers who live near golf courses, are experiencing similar health problems.  A 1996 research project studied brain cancer rates among 600 people. The research demonstrated a twofold increase risk for developing brain cancer for people who lived within 2600 feet of an agricultural area. (American Journal of Public Health, 86(9): 1289-96, 1996.)  In 1983 the National Cancer Institute studied 3,827 Florida pesticide applicators who had been spraying for more than 20 years.  They found that these pesticide applicators had nearly 3 times the risk of developing lung cancer and 2 times the risk of developing brain cancer.  There was no increased risk for pesticide applicators who had been spraying for only 5 years. (Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 71(1), July 1983.)


Beginning in the late 1970s there have been reports linking pesticides to leukemia in children. A 1987 study by the National Cancer Institute showed that children living in pesticide-treated homes had nearly a 4 times greater risk of developing leukemia (cancer of the blood).  If the children lived in homes where pesticide was sprayed on lawns and gardens, the risk of developing leukemia was 6.5 times greater.  All the children in the study were 10 years of age or younger. (Dr. John Peters, University of Southern California, Journal of the National Cancer Institute, July 1987.)  Cancer rates in the US have increased by 37% between 1950 and 1986.  Over a million people are diagnosed with cancer in the US reach year.  10,400 people in the US die each year from cancer related to pesticides.   It is estimated that the cost of cancer in term of lost production, income, and medical expenses amount to over US $38 billion each year.


One easy way that you can help reduce your chances of getting cancer is to reduce the toxic load in the environment by reducing your reliance on pesticides inside and outside your home.  Also, support local initiatives to get a pesticide bylaw enacted in your community as quickly as possible.

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