Hazardous pesticides freely available

Many chemicals available in Australia are no longer registered in Europe.
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  • Updated:17 Jun 2011

03.It must be safe...right?

Simply because a pesticide is available for sale doesn’t automatically mean it’s safe. “Numerous now-banned pesticides were once thought to be safe to use, but have since been implicated in many cases of cancer and other health issues,” says environmentalist and author Tanya Ha in the CHOICE book The Australian Green Consumer Guide.

However, currently registered pesticides still include substances known or suspected to cause cancer, neurological and reproductive problems, whether individually or as combination of compounds. For example, the pesticide endosulfan is banned in more than 50 countries but still permitted for use in Australia on various fruits and vegetables.

The products pictured below all contain chemicals that are no longer registered in the EU, and while we cannot state with certainty the reason why, even the fact there’s insufficient data for that chemical should surely be reason enough to avoid it. Some Australian insecticides contain suspected endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), a particularly nasty group of compounds, see Endocrine-disrupting chemicals, below. The problem in Australia is that our regulatory authorities regularly fail to adopt the precautionary principle when it comes to approving chemicals for use here.


Endocrine-disrupting chemicals

Endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) disrupt the network of glands and organs in the human body that secrete hormones which regulate growth, metabolism, reproduction and physiological functions. EDCs can mimic or block a hormone, which is of particular concern for unborn babies as their development depends on availablility of certain hormones at certain times.

EDCs have been linked to health problems ranging from acute childhood leukaemia and other cancers to neurobehavioural effects, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), as well as effects on the reproductive and immune systems.

Speaking at the 2007 Consumers International World Congress in Sydney, Dr Michael Hansen, a US ecologist and expert on pesticides, named 57 pesticides of concern as endocrine disruptors, including allethrin, permethrin, bioallethrin, chlorpyrifos and malathion. “New studies show adverse effects at very low levels of exposure,” he said.

Conclusions of studies

  • Various types of insecticide exposure (during pregnancy and early childhood) may be a risk factor for childhood acute leukaemia. Insecticidal shampoo treatment for head lice was also associated with childhood acute leukaemia.
  • Detectable levels of chlorpyrifos were present in about two-thirds of blood samples taken from mothers and newborns at delivery in households where this organophosphate pesticide was used during pregnancy. At age three, highly exposed children scored lower on psychomotor and mental development indices; previous experimental work had shown links between chlorpyrifos exposure and neurocognitive developments in rats.
  • Residential use of pyrethroid pesticides represents the most important risk factor for children’s exposure to pyrethroid insecticides.
  • Ingestion of permethrin in house dust contributes to children’s exposure to this pyrethroid.

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