New Report Shows Pesticide Exposure Associated with Certain Cancers

(Beyond Pesticides, July 6, 2010)

A review report published last Friday highlights that some research studies indicate that pesticide exposure either prior to conception, during pregnancy or during childhood appears to increase the risk of childhood cancer, with maternal pesticide exposure during pregnancy being most consistently associated with childhood cancer. Furthermore, the report notes that several studies indicate that farmers are at greater risk of developing certain cancers than the general population. In particular, several studies strongly suggest that pesticide exposures are associated with some cases of non Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL), leukemia, prostate cancer and other hormone related cancers.

The report, A Review of the Role Pesticides Play in Some Cancers: Children, farmers and pesticide users at risk?, is published by the United Kingdom organization CHEM (Chemicals, Health and Environment Monitoring) Trust.

“Pesticide exposures may interact with other chemical exposures and genetic factors, to cause cancer. Research suggests that pregnant women, in particular, should avoid direct exposure to pesticides, if possible,” said Gwynne Lyons, Director of CHEM Trust and report co-author. “It is high time that the UK was more supportive of EU proposals to take a tougher approach to reducing exposure to potentially harmful chemicals. If the UK is to shed its image of being the laggard in the EU, then the UK Government must robustly implement the new EU pesticides legislation in order to try and reduce the burden of cancer in children, farmers and others exposed to pesticides.”

The CHEM Trust report also highlights that certain cancers have increased dramatically in recent decades in the UK, showing that environmental factors must be partly to blame with pesticide exposures suspected to play a role in some cases. Although, a proportion, but not all of this increase, is believed to be due to better diagnostic techniques, cancer trend data are raising the alarm. In Britain over the last 30 years (1975/6 – 2005/6):

  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma has more than doubled;
  • Testicular cancer has doubled;
  • Breast cancer in women has increased by two thirds, and in men quadrupled;
  • Prostate cancer has tripled; and,
  • In the 35 years up to 1998, childhood cancer in Britain increased by 35%.

“Occupational and environmental cancers have been a neglected public health issue in the UK for decades. The report highlights the substantial nature of the threat from pesticide exposure. In the UK, oversight of pesticides has continued to err on the side of products rather than people and of course relies on data generated initially by the pesticide manufacturers,” said Andrew Watterson, Professor of Health at Stirling University and report coauthor. “The regulatory response has usually been, if in doubt, do continue using pesticides’ when the scientific literature is littered with examples of products that have been cleared in the past emerging as known or suspect human carcinogens. There is a long-overdue and urgent need to mount a cancer prevention campaign on pesticides based on effective precautionary principles.”

With 1 in 3 Europeans being diagnosed with cancer during their lifetime, the report concludes that EU governments should urgently focus more on cancer prevention. CHEM Trust calls on the UK Government to give greater consideration to cancer prevention via better control of chemicals, and for specific measures to reduce pesticide exposures. These include:

  •  Strict implementation of the new EU legislation on pesticides so that
    pesticides that disrupt hormones, and those suspected to cause cancer
    are substituted with safer alternatives; and,
  • Giving people living in houses bordering agricultural land a legal
    right to be notified in advance of any pesticide spraying operations,
    if they so request. This would give those living in rural areas the
    option of reducing their families’ exposure by, for example, bringing
    their children in from the garden, not hanging clothes out to dry on
    that day, or shutting their windows.

In the U.S., with a growing body of evidence linking environmental exposures to cancer in recent years, a report released May 6, 2010 by the President’s Cancer Panel finds that the true burden of environmentally-induced cancer is greatly underestimated. The Panel’s report, Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now, concludes that while environmental exposure is not a new front on the war on cancer, the grievous harm from this group of carcinogens has not been addressed adequately by the nation’s cancer program.

The U.S. President’s Cancer Panel also points out that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) chemical registration process does not eliminate these chemicals from our lives. “Nearly 1,400 pesticides have been registered by EPA for agricultural and non-agricultural use. Exposure to these chemicals has been linked to brain/central nervous system (CNS), breast, colon, lung, ovarian (female spouses), pancreatic, kidney, testicular, and stomach cancers, as well as Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, multiple myeloma, and soft tissue sarcoma‚ Approximately 40 chemicals classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as known, probable, or possible human carcinogens, are used in EPA-registered pesticides now on the market.” The Panel notes that the pesticide tolerances, the allowable limit on food, have been criticized by environmentalists as being inadequate and unduly influenced by industry.