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    A new book (2013), freely avalable herem, by Dr Meriel Watts, Co-ordinator Pesticide Action Network Aotearoa, on harm to children from pesticides

    Safe Food Campaign
    Soil & Health Association of New Zealand
    Pesticide Action Network Aotearoa NZ (PANANZ)
    Media release 13 July 06

    Pesticides harm children's brains

    Exposure to low doses of pesticides early in life could be affecting the subsequent development and functioning of children's brains and nervous system, according to US research published recently. Pesticides used in New Zealand, notably the herbicide 2,4-D and the organophosphate insecticide chlorpyrifos, have been linked to brain damage in young animals, embryos and foetuses.

    This evidence is being presented to the Local Government and Environment Committee at parliament today. Dr Meriel Watts of Pesticide Action Network Aotearoa, and Alison White of Safe Food Campaign will both be presenting material to support the petition of Kees Bon and 146 others calling for the banning of toxic pesticides and greater restrictions on the use of pesticides in New Zealand.

    Dr Watts and Ms White will present a list of 42 pesticides which they would like to see the Environmental Risk Management Authority (ERMA) urgently reassess, with a view to removing them from the market in New Zealand. The list includes 30 pesticides found in food which have been linked to cancer and 22 pesticides also found in food which have been linked to hormonal system damage.

    The US research by Dr Theo Colborn, published in a peer-reviewed journal earlier this year, reviews recent research of pesticides on cognitive and nervous system development and behaviour. The scientist calls for a new approach to determine the safety of pesticides. Present testing does not measure effects on the brain and behaviour, and she concludes that current regulatory requirements are not protective of future generations.

      "In New Zealand we use lots of the phenoxy herbicide 2,4-D, even aerially spraying it in many parts of the country", stated Dr Watts. "Yet independent peer-reviewed research links it to several worrying health effects. Argentinian researchers have found that if a young animal is exposed to it both before and after birth then levels of seratonin and dopamine in the brain may be changed permanently, having an effect on cognitive and emotional behaviour as well as the nervous system. We need to stop using this herbicide", concluded Dr Watts.

      "It is especially concerning that chlorpyrifos, through newly discovered mechanisms, can alter the development and function of a number of regions of the brain and central nervous system", commented Ms White. "The prenatal brain is especially vulnerable to it, even at very low doses, with potentially permanent effects on cognitive development and behaviour. ERMA needs to urgently reassess this pesticide among others. We would like to see it and all other organophosphates banned."

      "We want to get rid of the 'naughty forty' pesticides from New Zealand because of their link to cancer, hormonal and nervous system damage and acute toxicity", said Ms White. "Most of them have also been detected in food available in New Zealand, and even though these may be at low levels, no 'safe' level for carcinogens and endocrine disruptors such as these has ever been established. Pesticides such as these have been found in breast milk, children's urine, placental and umbilical cord blood, the meconium of the newborn and semen."

    For further enquiries contact:
    Alison White, Co-convenor Safe Food Campaign, (04)476 8607, (021)1699 120
    Dr Meriel Watts, Co-ordinator Pesticide Action Network Aotearoa, (09)372 2034, (025)602 3194


      Theo Colborn's study 'A Case for Revisiting the Safety of Pesticides: A Closer Look at Neurodevelopment' (Environ Health Perspect. 2006;114(1):10-17 ) is available online at:

    Following is the document "Pesticides for priority reassessment", which lists the 'naughty forty' pesticides and the criteria used for selection and references. If you wish for a formatted attachment in word of this, please email back.

      'Pesticides for Priority Reassessment'
      Compiled by Meriel Watts PhD, Co-ordinator Pesticide Action Network Aotearoa, and Alison White MA(Hons), DPH, Co-convenor Safe Food Campaign - March 2006

    Criteria used for determining priority pesticides for reassessment

      We have used a number of criteria for inclusion on this list:

      • carcinogenicity,
      • endocrine disruption,
      • high acute toxicity or neurotoxicity,
      • and presence as residues in our food.

      We have also considered some environmental aspects of concern, such as

      • persistence,
      • propensity to drift,
      • volatility, and
      • contamination of groundwater.

    The pesticides of highest concern are those for which there is evidence of carcinogenicity and endocrine disruption and which have been found in food in the latest Total Diet Survey and the Food Residue Surveillance Programme of 2005 (of the New Zealand Food Safety Authority). We have used the existence of the residues as a proxy indication of usage, persistence, and exposure.

    Both carcinogens and endocrine disruptors are of concern even at very low levels, such as may be found in food. No study has been able to ascertain that low levels of chemicals of this nature will not have an effect. It is a convenient but unscientific assumption that a little bit will not do us any harm. Conversely some studies have shown effects at very low doses 'e.g. Melnick et al 2002'. Endocrine disruptors, with much research emerging only relatively recently, can cause adverse effects by interfering with the body's hormones or chemical messengers. Exposed developing organisms may suffer effects on learning ability, behaviour, reproduction and increased susceptibility to cancer and other diseases. 'Melnick R, Lucier G, Wolfe M, Hall R, Stancel G, Prins G, Gallo M, Reuhl K, Shuk-Mei Ho S-M, Brown T, Moore J, Leakey J, Haseman J, Kohn M. 2002. Summary of the National Toxicology Program's report of the endocrine disruptors low-dose peer review. Environ Health Perspect 110:427-431.'

    We have divided the pesticides into 2 lists - Priority 1 and Priority 2 for reassessment:

    1. Priority 1 are those pesticides found as residues in our food and for which there is evidence of carcinogenicity and endocrine disruption, plus 3 other pesticides:
      1. atrazine because, although it was not detected in food it does contaminate groundwater, as well as there being evidence of carcinogenicity and very strong evidence of endocrine disruption, with five authorities classifying it as an endocrine disruptor.
      2. 2,4-D because, although it was not detected in food, there is a significant problem with drift affecting crops and human health, and it has been found in air, water, dust and in the bodies of 25% of humans in a national US survey, with higher levels in children than in adults. There is also evidence that it is an endocrine disruptor. There is some evidence for carcinogenicity, including the International Agency for Research on Cancer listing the class of chemicals to which it belongs as increasing the risk of cancer, even though the individual pesticide is not yet currently captured in regulatory listings.
      3. chlorpyrifos because, although it has not yet been classified as an endocrine disruptor by the authorities we have relied upon, there is increasing evidence that this pesticide, through newly discovered mechanisms, can alter the development and function of a number of regions of the brain and central nervous system. The prenatal brain is especially vulnerable to it at low doses, with potentially permanent effects on cognitive development and behaviour, for example.***

      There are 22 pesticides in the Priority 1 list

    2. Priority 2 are those pesticides that have evidence of carcinogenicity and/or endocrine disruption, but may not have been found in the latest food surveys, or, if they have, their prevalence of detection in food groups is less than those in Priority 1.
    3. There are 20 pesticides on the Priority 2 list.


    We have used regulatory information from the EU and US, summarised in the PAN UK "List of Lists", with additional information for three pesticides - 2,4-D, atrazine and endosulfan - which has not been adequately reflected in the current regulatory information.


      ++ for 'probable' or 'likely' carcinogens.
      + for 'possible' carcinogens or 'suggestive evidence' of carcinogenicity

    Endocrine/reproductive effects:

      ++ for EU endocrine disruptors classified (1)
      + for EU endocrine disruptors classified (2), and for reproductive effects according to WWF

    High acute toxicity/neurotoxicity:

      ++ for WHO Class Ia and 1b
      + for WHO II Class II and for other organophosphates

    The environmental information is added as an extra criterion for consideration, but is not accorded a score here, because the information is very incomplete. The International action category is added for extra information.

    Priority 1 for Reassessment

    Active ingredient Cancer Repro/endocrine Neurotox/high acute Environmental International action Residue in food Total
    acephate + + +   EU ban + 4
    acetochlor ++ ++       + 5
    atrazine + ++   groundwater OSPAR; EU water Nd 3
    benomyl/ carbendazim + +     EU essential use only + 3
    carbaryl ++ ++ +     + 6
    chlorpyrifos   +*** ++*** Drift, air, groundwater, persistent* OSPAR; EU water + 4
    cyhalothrin   ++ +   EU ban; OSPAR + 4
    cypermethrin + + +     + 4
    2,4-D + + + drift, air, water, dust*   Nd 3
    dichlorvos + + ++ Volatile   + 5
    dicofol + +     OSPAR + 3
    dimethoate + + +   EU + 4
    diuron ++ +   groundwater EU water + 4
    EBDC fungicides ++   ++     + 5
    endosulfan + ** ++ + Persistent OSPAR; EU water; widely banned + 5
    iprodione ++ +       + 4
    linuron + ++       + 4
    malathion + + + Water, air*   + 4
    permethrin + + + Ground water, persistent* EU ban + 4
    Piperonyl butoxide + +       + 3
    procymidone ++ ++       + 5
    simazine + +   Water EU water + 3

    Priority 2 for Reassessment

    Active ingredient Cancer Repro/endocrine Neurotox/high acute Environmental International action Residue in food Total
    amitrole ++ +       Not tested 3
    azinphos-methyl     ++   EU List 1 + 3
    captan ++         + 3
    chlorothalonil ++         + 3
    cyproconazole ++         + 3
    diazinon   + +     + 3
    fenitrothion   ++ +     + 4
    fenvalerate   + +   EU ban + 3
    haloxyfop ++   +   EU essential use Nd 3
    imazalil ++         + 3
    kresoxim ++         + 3
    paraquat   + ++ ****   widely banned Not tested 3
    phosmet +   +     + 3
    propargite ++         + 3
    propiconazole +   +     + 3
    propoxur ++   +     + 4
    tetrachlorvinphos ++         + 3
    tolyfluanid ++         + 3
    triademefon + +       + 3
    triademenol + +       + 3


    A number of different lists are used in the PAN UK's List of Lists:

    1. Cancer: 3 lists: US EPA, EU, IARC.
    2. Reproductive and/or endocrine disrupting: 6 lists: UK EA, DEFRA, Ger.EA, EU, OSPAR, WWF.
    3. Neurotoxicity/high acute toxicity: Pesticides with WHO classifications of Ia, Ib, II are included as well as organophosphates.
    4. Environmental: DSD (76/464/EEC)
    5. International action: 91/414/EEC: substances listed because of their persistence, toxicity and bioaccumulation, OSPAR - priority list and substances of possible concern 2004, PAN Dirty Dozen

    * References are available in the pdf files at

    ** 30 studies link endosulfan with cancer on the PubMed website, which has the biggest list of published peer-reviewed research.

    *** See publication of recent review by Theo Colborn:

    **** See report on paraquat at; a more in-depth report is in press and will eventually appear at the same site. : List of lists;

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