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Dipping into danger - Fears are mounting over routine exposure to pesticides

点击量:   时间:2018-01-19 01:01:07

By Michael Day MORE than one in ten people who are regularly exposed to organophosphate pesticides will suffer irreversible physical and mental damage, a team of psychiatrists warns. The investigators, led by Ron Davies of Rydon House acute psychiatric unit in Taunton, Somerset, say that theirs is the first serious attempt to estimate the number of people suffering because of chronic low-level exposure to the pesticides. “This is a worryingly high level of illness,” says Davies. The findings by the researchers, who also treat many of the victims, conflict with the stance of Britain’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the government agency monitoring occupational health, which says there is no good evidence to suggest chronic exposure leads to widespread illness. Davies and his colleagues at Rydon House and the Wonford House Hospital in Exeter sent questionnaires to 400 farmers selected at random from a phone book. Of 179 who replied, 130 reported that they had been exposed to organophosphates, mostly while dipping sheep. And 21 farmers complained of enough symptoms to be classed as suffering from organophosphate poisoning, says Davies. Allowing for bias inherent in the survey method, Davies suggests that around 10 per cent of farmers exposed to the pesticides suffer from poisoning. The researchers also uncovered a consistent pattern of symptoms ranging from extreme tiredness and speech difficulty to suicidal impulses. Again this contrasts with the HSE’s view that there is no clear pattern of symptoms for pesticide poisoning, making a diagnosis difficult. Davies believes the real figure for poisoning is much higher, once you include cancers and heart disease linked to the pesticide. Last year, British specialists also found evidence of a link between organophosphates and severe bone abnormalities in eight men (This Week, 24 May 1997, p 6). One of the researchers, Anthony Lyons of Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham, says preliminary results from a larger follow-up study suggest the extent of bone damage may be worse than they feared. Last week, Davies told the All Party Group on Organophosphates, a cross-party group of MPs, that virtually all those who suffer from organophosphate poisoning complain of becoming “exquisitely sensitive” to any further exposure. This is bad news for any Gulf War veterans sent back to the Middle East. Many scientists and doctors are convinced that Gulf War Syndrome is at least partly caused by organophosphate pesticides, which were sprayed in tents and on clothes to protect troops from biting insects. A spokesman for Britain’s Ministry of Defence says there are no immediate plans to send ground troops to the Gulf. But the US is moving 5000 troops into the region. Returning troops “would be more vulnerable or predisposed to poisoning”, says Mohamed Abou-Donia of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina,