Scientists Cite Pesticides’ Multigeneration Effects, Call for Regulation


(Beyond Pesticides, October 18, 2007)

In a scholarly review written by Theo Colborn, Ph.D. and Lynn Carroll, Ph.D., the authors point to the multigenerational effects of some pesticides that they say demand improved regulation to protect human and environmental health. The review, “Pesticides, Sexual Development, Reproduction, and Fertility: Current Perspective and Future Direction,” appears in the international journal Human and Ecological Risk Assessment (13:5, 1078  1110), September, 2007. The study points out a major deficiency in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s regulation of pesticides under current health reviews and risk assessments. The authors call EPA’s pesticide registration system “outmoded” and one that has “almost completely missed the low-dose and endocrine system-mediated effects of pesticides.” The study reviews both epidemiological and laboratory data. In the abstract, the authors state the following:

Improvements in chemical analytical technology and non-invasive sampling protocols have made it easier to detect pesticides and their metabolites at very low concentrations in human tissues. Monitoring has revealed that pesticides penetrate both maternal and paternal reproductive tissues and organs, thus providing a pathway for initiating harm to their offspring starting before fertilization throughout gestation and lactation. This article explores the literature that addresses the parental pathway of exposure to pesticides. We use DDT/DDE as a model for chemicals that oftentimes upon exposure have no apparent, immediate health impacts, or cause no obvious birth defects, and are seldom linked with cancer. Their health effects are overlooked because they are invisible and not life threatening but might have significant health, social, and economic impacts at the individual and population levels. The purpose of this article is to demonstrate the necessity to develop new approaches for determining the safety of pesticides and the need for innovative regulatory policy to protect human and environmental health.

The authors cite an article, “DDT and DDE exposure in mothers and time to pregnancy in daughters”, Cohn BA, Cirillo PM, Wolff MS, et al. 2003, Lancet 361:2205 06) a pesticide effect in the third generation, saying,

This study exposed heretofore occult activity of DDT and DDE where their effects are manifested in the second generation and not until adulthood and with an ultimate effect at the population level in the third generation. These cryptic and confusing findings provide insight into the complexity and insidious nature of a pesticide that is not acutely toxic and has been considered safe by some (Attaran et al. 2000) for more than 60 years. This study points out the need for multigenerational testing of pesticides, especially those that are persistent and may have degradation products that have different health impacts than the parent compound.

The authors conclude that:

The lesson learned from DDT and the other studies cited earlier is that developmental, transgenerational testing is critical to protect public health and future generations from widely dispersed chemicals. Certainly we cannot wait for prospective studies that could resolve the uncertainties. . . It is apparent that although there are adequate scientific data available to make sound public health decisions about certain pesticides, neither the political will nor the correct vehicle are available to translate that knowledge into policy to protect human health.

The authors can be reached at The Endocrine Disruption Exchange (TEDX), PO Box 1407, Paonia, CO 81428.