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Fungicides used on banana plantations threaten the health of pregnant women


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(NaturalNews) A widely used fungicide linked to birth defects may accumulate in the bodies of pregnant women living near agricultural fields, according to a study conducted by researchers from the National University of Costa Rica and published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives on September 8.

The study looked specifically at levels of ethylene thiourea (ETU) in the urine of pregnant women living near banana plantations. ETU is an ingredient in the widely used fungicide mancozeb, which is widely sprayed on Costa Rican banana plantations.

Although the study looked only at banana plantations, mancozeb is widely used on other crops as well. In Costa Rica, the fungicide is also widely used on plantains, beans, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes and watermelons. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 5.6 million pounds of the poison are sprayed on U.S. crops each year, with the "greatest use" on apples and potatoes, and "extensive" use on grapes, melons, tomatoes, squash and pears.

Brain damage, thyroid tumors

Studies have shown that ETU and mancozeb can harm fetal brain development and can damage the thyroid gland, producing thyroid hormone dysfunction, shrinking of the thyroid gland, and thyroid lesions or tumors. The EPA classifies the fungicide as a systemic toxicant.

The Costa Rican study took urine samples from 445 pregnant women living near banana plantations in the area of Matina Canton (county) in Limon, Costa Rica. It found that ETU levels in the pregnant women were five times higher than those seen in the general population, and were higher than the maximum safe levels set by the government.

Proximity to banana fields seemed to be the greatest risk factor for high ETU levels. For example, women living less than 500 meters from a banana field had ETU levels an average of 45 percent higher than women living farther away. The greatest risk was seen in those living within 50 meters of the fields.

Other women with higher levels included those who had worked in the fields during pregnancy, who had washed agricultural work clothes on the day before the urine sample was taken or who were immigrants.

The researchers are now conducting a follow-up study to determine whether there are any differences in height, weight or development among the children of the exposed women at the age of 12 months.

U.S. regulations are just as lax

Because not all the women affected worked at the banana fields, the researchers suspect that exposure from aerial spraying is probably behind the high ETU levels seen in women living in the area.

"Few women work in the agricultural sector, which led us to believe that this is a problem for the wider environment," researcher Berna van Wendel said.

Sergio Laprade, coordinator for the National Banana Corporation, CORBANA, said the growers have done nothing wrong.

"We've never been told that we're not in compliance with the law," he said.

But the researchers said that lax laws, not poor compliance, are the problem.

"It's important to review the current legislation on required distances for the application of pesticides by air," van Wendel said

Countries such as Argentina, for example, require that any fields visited by crop dusters be situated at least 500 meters from any communities or residences. Other measures that could be implemented include reducing the frequency of spraying, using spraying methods that decrease the likelihood of chemicals drifting into nearby homes and prohibiting the laundering of agricultural clothes at home.

Costa Rica's aerial spraying regulations are based on EPA standards in California, Laprade noted, and only prohibit spraying within 30 meters of communities. In addition, there is supposed to be some form of barrier, such as a line of trees, between fields and communities.



http://www.epa.gov [PDF]



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