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Since my last post on the most commonly used pesticide in the world - glyphosate - there have been a number of important developments. Glyphosate is the active ingredient in the weed-killer or herbicide Roundup, which is manufactured by the chemical giant Monsanto. There have been more questions raised about the safety of glyphosate, and also what went on behind the scenes recently between Monsanto and some officials at the EPA, especially EPA deputy division director Jess Rowland.

Was there a downplaying of the pesticide's health effects or squashing of researchers and studies that raised health concerns? (Remember that the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a branch of the World Health Organization, found glyphosate to be a "probable carcinogen" in 2015, but the manufacturer Monsanto has fought long and hard against that designation) Was there corruption? Or ...?

A big problem is that the EPA relies on industry-funded studies to determine if something is safe or not - which is like the fox guarding the chicken house. Also, were the so-called "independent" research articles actually ghost-written by industry (Monsanto), which is what some documents are suggesting? And why was a government review of the pesticide squashed? Tsk.... tsk.... Another problem is that the EPA can choose which studies to include when making a decision - and they can choose to disregard independent peer-reviewed research (the better research) and rely on industry studies that are not peer-reviewed (definitely bias in these studies). And yes, this happened here. For example, the EPA has ignored more than 1500 published (and peer reviewed) studies on glyphosate from the last decade and instead relied largely on less than 300 unpublished, non-peer-reviewed studies. Another tsk...tsk....

Now a published paper by noted researchers (see below) makes the case that the debate over glyphosate remains unsettled and requires further review. The researchers recommend such things as better testing of glyphosate levels and its metabolites in the human body. They pointed out that some studies with rodents found that glyphosate is a carcinogen (can "induce cancers"), and other studies find glyphosate is associated with negative health effects in humans, such as chronic kidney disease and some cancers. Some research suggests that glyphosate is an endocrine disruptor. Also, chemical mixtures can be more toxic than individual chemicals - this is a concern with the chemicals in Roundup. Studies are needed examining people exposed through their occupations (e.g., pesticide applicators), and also "vulnerable populations (e.g., pregnant women, babies, children). The researchers added that current safety standards are outdated and may fail to protect public health and the environment.

I would like to add that this is why glyphosate residues need to be studied in food - we are eating the stuff unless we only eat organic food. Due to the practices of "preharvest application" of glyphosate (Roundup) and the increasing use of genetically modified crops (such as Roundup Ready crops) that allow the herbicide to be applied without killing the crop (but which means the pesticide is in the crop), the use of glyphosate is increasing rapidly. And then there is the use on school grounds, in suburban yards, and properties. Yikes! This is not a political issue - this is a health issue, and of having the right-to-know what is in our food, our bodies, and our environment (you don't think it just stays on the fields where it is used, do you?)

Excerpts from the NY Times article: Monsanto Weed Killer Roundup Faces New Doubts on Safety in Unsealed Documents

The reputation of Roundup, whose active ingredient is the world’s most widely used weed killer, took a hit on Tuesday when a federal court unsealed documents raising questions about its safety and the research practices of its manufacturer, the chemical giant Monsanto.... A case in federal court in San Francisco has challenged that conclusion, building on the findings of an international panel that claimed Roundup’s main ingredient might cause cancer.

The court documents included Monsanto’s internal emails and email traffic between the company and federal regulators. The records suggested that Monsanto had ghostwritten research that was later attributed to academics and indicated that a senior official at the Environmental Protection Agency had worked to quash a review of Roundup’s main ingredient, glyphosate, that was to have been conducted by the United States Department of Health and Human Services. The documents also revealed that there was some disagreement within the E.P.A. over its own safety assessment.

Excerpts from an article about the BMJ paper (see below) at Science Daily: Weedkiller chemical (glyphosate) safety standards need urgent review

But most of the science used to support the safety standards applied in the US was carried out more than 30 years ago, and relatively little of it was subject to peer review, they point out. More than 1500 studies have been published on the chemical over the past decade alone. "It is incongruous that safety assessments of the most widely used herbicide on the planet rely largely on fewer than 300 unpublished, non-peer reviewed studies while excluding the vast modern literature on glyphosate effects," say the experts. And despite the rapid increase in use there is no systematic monitoring system for tracking levels in human tissue, and few studies have looked at potential harms to human health.

But recent animal studies have suggested that glyphosate at doses lower than those used to assess risk, may be linked to heightened risks of liver, kidney, eye and cardiovascular system damage. And weed-killers, which combine glyphosate with other 'so-called inert ingredients,' may be even more potent. But these mixtures are regarded as commercially sensitive by the manufacturers and are therefore not available for public scrutiny, say the experts.

Excerpt from the BMJ Journal of Epidiomology and Community Health: Is it time to reassess current safety standards for glyphosate-based herbicides?

Use of glyphosate-based herbicides (GBHs) increased ∼100-fold from 1974 to 2014. Additional increases are expected due to widespread emergence of glyphosate-resistant weeds, increased application of GBHs, and preharvest uses of GBHs as desiccants. Current safety assessments rely heavily on studies conducted over 30 years ago. We have considered information on GBH use, exposures, mechanisms of action, toxicity and epidemiology. Human exposures to glyphosate are rising, and a number of in vitro and in vivo studies challenge the basis for the current safety assessment of glyphosate and GBHs. We conclude that current safety standards for GBHs are outdated and may fail to protect public health or the environment.

Why is the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) dropping plans to test for glyphosate residues in food? It was supposed to start soon (April 1, 2017), in coordination with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but now all plans to test have been dropped. Why is this worrisome? The issue is that glyphosate is currently the most widely used pesticide in the world. It is a herbicide that is the active ingredient in the herbicide commonly known as Roundup. Global use was 1.65 billion pounds in 2014 , while overall use in the US was 276.4 million pounds in 2014. Glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen and linked to various health effects, and research shows that glyphosate residues are commonly found in foods.

Even though whether glyphosate is a carcinogen is hotly debated by some groups (with Monsanto fiercely fighting against such a label), it shouldn't matter in the decision of whether to test for glyphosate residues in foods. What is going on with our food, and whether and how much glyphosate residues are in food should be monitored. Government agencies (such as USDA) test for other pesticide residues, and they should do the same for glyphosate, especially because it is so widely used.

The FDA did test for a short while last year (2016) and then stopped in the fall, and yes, they found residues in the foods they studied. Government and private testing has already found glyphosate residues in breast milk, soybeans, corn, honey, cereal, wheat flour, oatmeal, soy sauce, beer, and infant formula. It is currently unknown what the glyphosate residues in food that we eat means for human health. Several studies have linked glyphosate to human health ailments, including non-Hodgkin lymphoma and kidney and liver problems. Of special concern is that because glyphosate is so pervasive in the environment, even trace amounts might be harmful due to chronic exposure. Glyphosate is patented by its manufacturer (Monsanto) for its antibacterial properties - thus it can be viewed as an antibiotic. What is it doing to our gut microbes when ingested? Some people (including researchers) are even suggesting that much of "gluten sensitivity" or "gluten intolerance" that people complain of, may actually be sensitivity to glyphosate residues in food. There are many unanswered questions.

So....is this a case of burying the head in the sand? That there are no problems if no one looks for them? The EPA has long known that glyphosate residues are occurring in food because in 2013 the EPA raised "tolerance limits" for human exposure to glyphosate for certain foods, stating with "reasonable certainty that no harm will result" from human exposure to the chemical. This increase in tolerance levels came about from a request from Monsanto (the manufacturer of the glyphosate herbicide Roundup), and even though numerous groups protested the increase, the EPA went along with Monsanto's request. Some tolerances doubled. Pesticide residues are an important issue - because we don't know what chronic exposure to mixtures of low levels of pesticides (which includes glyphosate) in foods does to us. To babies and children, to pregnant women, to the elderly, to all of us.

But remember.... there are very strong industry pressures on the EPA and USDA, with some government officials also having ties to the industry, and so perhaps it's a case of keeping the head firmly in the sand for all sorts of pesticide issues. Maybe the motto is: see no evil...hear no evil....There have been some lawsuits from people claiming harm from the pesticide, as well as push back from scientists and environmental groups. Some influential scientists and physicians came out with a Statement of Concern in 2016 regarding their serious concerns with glyphosate.

The reason that glyphosate tolerance limits needed to be increased in the USA is because Roundup Ready crops are now so extensively planted, and this has resulted in skyrocketing use of glyphosate in the last 20 years. Roundup Ready crops are genetically modified to tolerate repeated glyphosate spraying (against weeds)  during the growing season. However, the crops take up and accumulate  glyphosate, and so glyphosate residues are increasing in crops. Another reason for increased residue of glyphosate in crops is the current practice of applying an herbicide such as Roundup right at the time of harvest to non-GMO crops such as wheat, so that the crop dies at once and dries out (pre-harvest crop dessication), and which is called a "preharvest application" by Monsanto. Glyphosate is now off-patent so many other companies are also using glyphosate in their products throughout the world.

How to lower your daily intake of glyphosate? Eat organic foods as much as possible, including wheat, corn, oats, soybeans. Glyphosate is not allowed to be used in organic food production. The following excerpts are from an article by journalist Carey Gillam, and it is well worth reading the entire article. From The Huffington Post:

USDA Drops Plan to Test for Monsanto Weed Killer in Food

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has quietly dropped a plan to start testing food for residues of glyphosate, the world’s most widely used weed killer and the key ingredient in Monsanto Co.’s branded Roundup herbicides. The agency spent the last year coordinating with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in preparation to start testing samples of corn syrup for glyphosate residues on April 1, according to internal agency documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests. Documents show that at least since January 2016 into January of this year, the glyphosate testing plan was moving forward. But when asked about the plan this week, a USDA spokesman said no glyphosate residue testing would be done at all by USDA this year.

The USDA’s plan called for the collection and testing of 315 samples of corn syrup from around the United States from April through August, according to the documents. Researchers were also supposed to test for the AMPA metabolite, the documents state. AMPA (aminomethylphosphonic acid) is created as glyphosate breaks down. Measuring residues that include those from AMPA is important because AMPA is not a benign byproduct but carries its own set of safety concerns, scientists believe.

The USDA does not routinely test for glyphosate as it does for other pesticides used in food production. But that stance has made the USDA the subject of criticism as controversy over glyphosate safety has mounted in recent years. The discussions of testing this year come as U.S. and European regulators are wrestling with cancer concerns about the chemical, and as Monsanto, which has made billions of dollars from its glyphosate-based herbicides, is being sued by hundreds of people who claim exposures to Roundup caused them or their loved ones to suffer from non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Internal Monsanto documents obtained by plaintiffs’ attorneys in those cases indicate that Monsanto may have manipulated research regulators relied on to garner favorable safety assessments, and last week, Congressman Ted Lieu called for a probe by the Department of Justice into Monsanto’s actions.

Along with the USDA, the Food and Drug Administration also annually tests thousands of food samples for pesticide residues. Both agencies have done so for decades as a means to ensure that traces of weed killers, insecticides, fungicides and other chemicals used in farming do not persist at unsafe levels in food products commonly eaten by American families. If they find residues above the “maximum residue level” (MRL) allowed for that pesticide and that food, the agencies are supposed to inform the EPA, and actions can be taken against the supplier. The EPA is the regulator charged with establishing MRLs, also called “tolerances,” for different types of pesticides in foods, and the agency coordinates with USDA and FDA on the pesticide testing programs.

But despite the fact that glyphosate use has surged in the last 20 years alongside the marketing of glyphosate-tolerant crops, both USDA and FDA have declined to test for glyphosate residues aside from one time in 2011 when the USDA tested 300 soybean samples for glyphosate and AMPA residues. At that time the agency found 271 samples contained glyphosate, but said the levels were under the MRL - low enough not to be worrisome. The Government Accountability Office took both agencies to task in 2014 for the failure to test regularly for glyphosate.

The USDA’s most recent published report on pesticide residues in food found that for 2015 testing, only 15 percent of the 10,187 samples tested were free from any detectable pesticide residues. That’s a marked difference from 2014, when the USDA found that over 41 percent of samples were “clean” or showed no detectable pesticide residues. But the agency said the important point was that most of the samples, over 99 percent, had residues below the EPA’s established tolerances and are at levels that “do not pose risk to consumers’ health and are safe.” Many scientists take issue with using MRLs as a standard associated with safety, arguing they are based on pesticide industry data and rely on flawed analyses. Much more research is needed to understand the impact on human health of chronic dietary exposures to pesticides, many say.

Another study has linked childhood behavioral problems to pesticide exposure, this time to pyrethroid insecticide exposure. Pyrethroids are synthetic pesticides (insecticides) that are increasingly used for personal use (mosquito repellents and treatments for head lice, scabies), on pets (for fleas), home use (e.g., Raid pesticides), and in agriculture.

Until recently, they have been viewed as "safer" and posing fewer risks to human health than older pesticides, but a growing body of research is finding that pyrethroid pesticides share similar neurocognitive health effects as older pesticides. Neurocognitive refers to the neural processes of the brain and central nervous system involved in cognitive functioning. Pyrethroids get into people various ways: through inhalation, absorbed through the skin, and ingested in food. And yes, they cross the placenta (they have been detected in the placental cord immediately after birth).

In this study, researchers looked at levels of pyrethroid metabolites (the breakdown products from pyrethroids) in the mother's urine during early pregnancy and in the child's urine when the child was 6 years of age. They looked at how social a child is (altruism), whether the child is inhibited and has difficulty sharing problems or asking for help (internalizing behaviors), as well as how defiant or disruptive a child is (externalizing behaviors, which can include hyperactivity and oppositionality).

Pyrethroids (the metabolites) were regularly detected in both mothers and children participating in the study. Internalizing disorders were associated with high levels of one pyrethroid metabolite (cis-DCCA, a breakdown product of permethrin, cypermethrin, and clyfluthrin) in pregnant mothers’ urine. Childhood exposure to pyrethroids (as measured in the child's urine) was linked to externalizing disordersResearchers hypothesized that the behavioral difficulties were due to changes in the child’s brain. The authors stated: “The current study suggests that exposure to certain pyrethroids at the low environmental doses encountered by the general public may be associated with behavioural disorders in children.” "Internalizing behaviors are inhibited and overcontrolled in nature, while children with

Other studies have also found negative health effects on children from pyrethroids -  for example, an association between synthetic pyrethroid exposure and ADHD hyperactivity and impulsivity. Recent research found that living near a farm field where pyrethroids are applied during a mother’s third trimester or just before conception corresponds with a greatly increased risk of having a child with autism spectrum disorder.

What can one do? Main one: try to avoid using and ingesting (in food) synthetic pyrethroids. This means avoid routine "pesticide treatments" of your home and garden, and instead use least-toxic methods to control pests around the home and garden (such as baits for insects, caulk holes, etc.). Try viewing weeds in the lawn as native wildflowers and the flowers as bee habitats (yes, you'll also be saving bees!). Eat as many organic foods (especially fruits and vegetables) as possible - this will lower the amount of pesticides in your body. This is because synthetic pyrethroids are not allowed in organic farming.  The good news is that pyrethroid pesticides leave the body within days, so with some lifestyle changes you can really lower your pesticide levels.

From Medscape:  'Safe' Insecticides Tied to Neurobehavioral Problems in Kids

Prenatal and childhood exposure to pyrethroid insecticides may adversely affect neurobehavioral development in children up to age 6 years, new research shows. A group of French researchers led by Jean-François Viel, MD, PhD, and Prof Andreas G. Franke, MD, both of the University of Mainz, Germany, investigated the associations between exposure to pyrethroid insecticides and behavioral skills in 6-year-olds.

Using a longitudinal design, the researchers assessed pyrethroid exposure in children prenatally and at age 6 years. They found that in 6-year-old children, increased prenatal concentrations of the cis-dimethylcyclopropane carbolic acid metabolite were associated with internalizing difficulties. A positive association was also found between the presence of childhood 3-phenoxybenzoic acid (3-PBA) and externalizing difficulties.

The researchers used a longitudinal design to assess the relationship between prenatal and childhood pyrethroid concentrations, using data from the French PELAGIE mother-child study. That study enrolled 3421 pregnant women from Brittany, France, between 2002 and 2006. Of this cohort, 287 randomly selected mothers agreed to participate in neuropsychological follow-up. Psychologists who were blinded to pyrethroid exposure levels in the study participants conducted neurodevelopmental assessments and maternal interviews to assess the home environment. They also collected children's urine samples as well as dust samples.

What things in our environment have an effect on the microbes living within us? We now know that gut microbes are important for our health in many ways, and that thousands of species of bacteria, as well as viruses, fungi, and other microbes normally live in a healthy person's gut. We refer to these microbes as the human microbiota or human microbiome. When the community of gut microbes is thrown out of whack (dysbiosis) there can be a number of negative health effects, including diseases. Researchers are just learning about all the microbes within us and their importance in health and disease. [See all posts on the human microbiome.]

Past posts have discussed such things as antibiotics, emulsifiers, different foods and diets, heartburn drugs, etc. having an effect on the human microbiome, but what else? A recent study from China reviewed some environmental pollutants and their effects on gut microbiota - as shown in both human and animal studies. They reviewed studies on antibiotics, heavy metals (arsenic, cadmium, lead), persistant organic pollutants or POPs (organochlorine pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polybrominated diphenyl ethers, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons or PAHs), pesticides (permethrin, chlorpyrifos, pentachlorophenol, epoxiconazole and carbendazim, imazalil), emulsifiers, nanoparticles (e.g., silver nanoparticles), and artificial sweeteners. They found that all these environmental pollutants had effects on gut microbes - with some effects lasting for years. Their conclusion: gut microbes are very sensitive to drugs, diet, and environmental pollutants. By the way, notice that popular food ingredients such as emulsifiers and artificial sweeteners were considered "environmental pollutants" by the researchers.

Excerpts from Environmental Pollution: Effects of environmental pollutants on gut microbiota

Environmental pollutants have become an increasingly common health hazard in the last several decades. Recently, a number of studies have demonstrated the profound relationship between gut microbiota and our health. Gut microbiota are very sensitive to drugs, diet, and even environmental pollutants. In this review, we discuss the possible effects of environmental pollutants including antibiotics, heavy metals, persistent organic pollutants, pesticides, nanomaterials, and food additives on gut microbiota and their subsequent effects on health. We emphasize that gut microbiota are also essential for the toxicity evaluation of environmental pollution. In the future, more studies should focus on the relationship between environmental pollution, gut microbiota, and human health.

Thousands of species are found in the gut microbiome, and the majority of these species belong to six bacterial phyla: Firmicutes, Bacteroidetes, Actinobacteria, Proteobacteria, Fusobacteria, and Verrucomicrobia (Eckburg et al., 2005). Gut microbiota are highly dynamic and have substantial interindividual and intraindividual variation....The gut microbiota are very essential for host health. They participate in the regulation of many physiological functions. The gut microbiota reside in our intestinal mucus layer and even participate in shaping the mucus layer (Jakobsson et al., 2015). They help us to digest food (such as fiber); synthesize vitamins and amino acids (Spanogiannopoulos et al., 2016); play very important roles in energy metabolism and storage, immune system modulation, growth, and neurodevelopment; and can even regulate our behavior.... The occurrence of many diseases is correlated with altered gut microbiome composition (Lange et al., 2016). Gut microbiota dysbiosis is considered to be a potential cause of obesity (Cani et al., 2007; Fei and Zhao, 2013). However, gut microbiota are very sensitive to drugs, diet, and environmental pollutants.

Although most environmental pollutants do not directly target gut microbiota, some pollutants can enter the body and interact with the gut microbiota through different pathways. A number of previous studies have shown that exposure to environmental pollutants can alter the composition of the gut microbiome, leading to disorders of energy metabolism, nutrient absorption, and immune system function or the production of other toxic symptoms (Jin et al., 2015c; Zhang et al., 2015b). In the present review, we conclude that different kinds of environmental pollutants can induce gut microbiota dysbiosis and have multiple potential adverse effects on animal health

Heavy metals in the environment have become a severe health risk in recent years (Liu et al., 2016a). As a common form of environmental pollution, heavy metals are associated with a wide range of toxic effects, including carcinogenesis, oxidative stress, and DNA damage, and effects on the immune system..... Recently, several studies have stated that heavy metal exposure could also lead to gut microbiota dysbiosis, indicating that study of gut microbiota provides a new approach to analyze the mechanisms of heavy metal toxicity

Immune system function is tightly coupled to our gut microbiome. Gut microbiota and their metabolites can interact with both the innate immune system and the adaptive immune system (Honda and Littman, 2016; Thaiss et al., 2016).... Alterations in the gut microbiome can disrupt the balance between the host immune system and gut microbiota, induce immune responses, and even trigger some immunological diseases. Furthermore, immune system imbalance may influence the microbiota metabolites. For example, trimethylamine, which is absorbed from food by gut microbiota, can induce atherosclerosis (Chistiakov et al., 2015).

An article points out what we should all be concerned with, but is being ignored - pesticide residues of glyphosate (found in Monsanto's Roundup) and 2,4-D in foods. Glyphosate is the most used pesticide in the world, and both glyphosate and 2,4-D pesticide residues in food are set to really increase with the introduction of genetically modified crops resistant to both pesticides (The farmers can spray the pesticides against weeds repeatedly and the crops won't die - they're resistant to the pesticides, so the crops and foods will contain pesticide residues.). Both pesticides are linked to a variety of health problems.

The FDA, under pressure, started analyzing some foods this year for glyphosate residues, but has already stopped due to "problems". When and if they resume is unknown. It is important to know that pesticide residues at varying levels have been found in many foods (here, here, and here). What this chronic low level exposure does to humans is unknown. The only way to avoid or minimize pesticide exposures is to eat organic foods (herehere, and here).

When reading the following excerpts, note that there are no standards for glyphosate residues in honey in the United States. Research by a FDA chemist and a chemist at the University of Iowa found residues of glyphosate at varying levels with a high of 653 parts per billion in one sample (in honey from Iowa) - which is more than 10 times the limit of 50 ppb allowed in the European Union. Other honey samples tested detected glyphosate residues from under 16 ppb to over 123 parts per billion ppb (in honey from Louisiana). I mention this because pesticide residues are an important issue - because we don't know what chronic exposure to mixtures of low levels of pesticides in foods does to us. To babies and children, to pregnant women, to the elderly, to all of us. The following article excerpts are by journalist Carey Gillam, from The Huffington Post:

FDA Suspends Testing for Glyphosate Residues in Food

Government testing for residues of an herbicide that has been linked to cancer has been put on hold, slowing the Food and Drug Administration’s first-ever endeavor to get a handle on just how much of the controversial chemical is making its way into U.S. foods. The FDA, the nation’s chief food safety regulator, launched what it calls a “special assignment” earlier this year to analyze certain foods for residues of the weed killer called glyphosate after the agency was criticized by the U.S. Government Accountability Office for failing to include glyphosate in annual testing programs that look for many less-used pesticides. Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in the world, and is the key ingredient in Monsanto Co.’s branded Roundup herbicide line.

Glyphosate is under particular scrutiny now after the World Health Organization’s cancer experts last year declared the chemical a probable human carcinogen. Several private groups and nonprofits have been doing their own testing, and have been finding glyphosate residues in varying levels in a range of foods, raising consumer concerns about the pesticide’s presence in the American diet.

The FDA’s residue testing for glyphosate was combined with a broader herbicides analysis program the FDA set in motion in February of this year. But the glyphosate testing has been particularly challenging for the FDA. The agency was finally forced to put the glyphosate residue testing part of the work plan on hold amid confusion, disagreement and difficulties ....FDA spokeswoman Megan McSeveney confirmed the testing suspension and said the agency is not sure when it will resume.....Alongside the testing for glyphosate, the FDA laboratories have also been analyzing foods for 2,4-D and other “acid herbicides,” documents obtained from the FDA show. The category of acid herbicides includes five of the top 10 active ingredients used in homes and gardens. Usage of 2,4-D is expected to triple in the coming year, according to the FDA.

McSeveney said glyphosate residues were only being analyzed in soy, corn, milk and eggs and the popcorn samples, while the other foods are being tested for residues of other herbicides. Earlier this year, one of the agency’s senior chemists also analyzed glyphosate residues in honey and oatmeal and reported his results to the agency. Some honey samples contained residue levels well over the limit allowed in the European Union. The United States has no legal tolerance for glyphosate in honey, though the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said recently it may set one because of the FDA findings. 

With the testing on hold, it is not clear when the agency might have final results on the glyphosate residue analysis. McSeveney said preliminary results showed no violations of legal tolerance levels allowed for glyphosate in the foods tested. She did not provide details on what, if any, levels of residue were found. Tolerance levels are set by the EPA for a variety of pesticides expected to be found in foods. When residue levels are detected above the tolerance levels, enforcement action can be taken against the food producers.

Though FDA annually tests domestic and imported foods for residues of other pesticides, it never tested for glyphosate before. It has not routinely tested for 2,4-D either, a fact also criticized by the GAO. The FDA testing for 2,4-D residues comes as the use of 2,4-D with food crops is expected to start rising due to the commercialization of new formulated herbicide products that combine glyphosate and 2,4-D. Safety questions have been raised about the combination. But the EPA gave a green light on Nov. 1 to a Dow AgroSciences’ herbicide combination of glyphosate and 2,4-D. The new products are intended to counter widespread weed resistance to glyphosate, and be used with new types of genetically engineered herbicide-tolerant crops.

I've been thinking a lot about pesticides in foods and pesticides in honey since the recent post about untreated lawns and bees. Research finds that untreated lawns (no pesticides of any kind) with their diversity of flowering weeds or "spontaneous flowering plants" (such as clover and dandelions) are actually great pollen and nectar sources for bees. In other words, untreated lawns are great bee habitats! We think of conventional farms as using a lot of pesticides, but that is also true of suburbia with its obsession with "perfect lawns" and gardens, with no weeds allowed. According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Up to ten times more pesticides per acre are used on suburban lawns than on conventional farms! Perhaps it's time to view clover and other "spontaneous flowering plants" as beneficial wildflowers providing food for bees, and not undesirable weeds that need eradicating with pesticides.

Thus these recent articles about pesticide residues in foods, including honey, caught my eye. Notice that conventional foods have pesticide residues, but not organic foods (or they may have much lower pesticide residues, typically due to contamination from neighboring farms). Honey is tricky - there may be pesticide residues because bees fly to pesticide contaminated areas, and also beekeepers may use pesticides for pest control when caring for their bees and bee hives. The most uncontaminated honey would be from organic beekeepers located in pristine areas, with no industry, farming, or treated lawns nearby, and who do not buy "wax starter comb". Bees forage for nectar and pollen within 2 miles from the bee hive, but may fly up to 7 miles from the bee hive. As an article in Scientific Reports pointed out: "Any agrochemical applied anywhere within a colony's extensive reach can end up back in the hive."

Note that no one knows what the long-term health effects are of ingesting foods daily with low levels of mixtures of pesticides (chronic exposure), and also of ingesting endocrine disruptors. A "cocktail effect" may occur from combined traces of different pesticides - the chemicals may be more toxic when combined than alone. We just don't know. The FDA just started testing for glyphosate residues (glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup) in 2016 - and this is the most heavily used pesticide in the world! Currently nearly 300 million pounds of glyphosate are applied each year on U.S. farms. Now add in all the other ways we're exposed to pesticides - both indoors and outdoors  lawns, gardens, farms), even on our treated pets. Something to think about.

A number of Kellogg and Nestle brand muesli cereals were among those tested in the following research. Muesli is a breakfast cereal of rolled oats, perhaps other grains, dried fruit, and nuts. From France's English language newspaper The Connexion: Pesticides are found in mueslis

Pesticides have been found in all non-organic mueslis tested, with a study finding traces of chemicals including endocrine disruptors. The tests were carried out by food safety group association Générations Futures, which tested 20 types of muesli sold by major brands and supermarket own-brands.  Results revealed that on average, the 15 non-organic mueslis contained traces of nine pesticides, including endocrine disruptors (chemicals that interfere with the hormonal system) – and one sample had traces of 14 pesticides. On average, the contaminated samples had concentrations of pesticide 354 times that allowed in water. There were no traces of pesticides or endocrine disruptors in the five organic cereals tested.

From Huffington Post: FDA Finds Monsanto’s Weed Killer In U.S. Honey

The Food and Drug Administration, under public pressure to start testing samples of U.S. food for the presence of a pesticide that has been linked to cancer, has some early findings that are not so sweet. In examining honey samples from various locations in the United States, the FDA has found fresh evidence that residues of the weed killer called glyphosate can be pervasive - found even in a food that is not produced with the use of glyphosate. All of the samples the FDA tested in a recent examination contained glyphosate residues, and some of the honey showed residue levels double the limit allowed in the European Union, according to documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. There is no legal tolerance level for glyphosate in honey in the United States.

Glyphosate, which is the key ingredient in Monsanto Co.’s Roundup herbicide, is the most widely used weed killer in the world, and concerns about glyphosate residues in food spiked after the World Health Organization in 2015 said its cancer experts determined glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen. Other international scientists have raised concerns about how heavy use of glyphosate is impacting human health and the environment.

Even though the FDA annually examines foods for residues of many pesticides, it has skipped testing for glyphosate residues for decades. It was only in February of this year that the agency said it would start some glyphosate residues analysis. That came after many independent researchers started conducting their own testing and found glyphosate in an array of food products, including flour, cereal, and oatmeal. The government and Monsanto have maintained that any glyphosate residues in food would be minimal enough to be safe. But critics say without robust testing, glyphosate levels in food are not known. And they say that even trace amounts may be harmful because they are likely consumed so regularly in many foods.

In the records released by the FDA, one internal email describes trouble locating honey that doesn’t contain glyphosate: “It is difficult to find blank honey that does not contain residue.".....Sack said the EPA had been “made aware of the problem” and was expected to set tolerance levels for honey. Once tolerance levels are set by EPA - if they are set high enough - the residues would no longer be a violation.

Sioux Honey Vice President Bill Huser said glyphosate is commonly used on farm fields frequented by bees, and the pesticide travels back with the bees to the hives where the honey is produced....Beekeepers located in the South would have honeybees close to cotton and soybean fields. Alfalfa, soybeans and cotton are all genetically engineered to be sprayed directly with glyphosate.

Like the FDA, the USDA has dragged its feet on testing. Only one time, in 2011, has the USDA tested for glyphosate residues despite the fact that the agency does widespread testing for residues of other less-used pesticides. In what the USDA called a “special project” the agency tested 300 soybean samples for glyphosate and found more than 90 percent - 271 of the samples - carried the weed killer residues. The agency said then that further testing for glyphosate was “not a high priority” because glyphosate is considered so safe. It also said that while residues levels in some samples came close to the very high levels of glyphosate “tolerance” established by EPA, they did not exceed those levels.

Not only do pesticides get into the honey, but exposure to multiple pesticides is linked to bee deaths. From phys.org: High number of pesticides within colonies linked to honey bee deaths

Honey bee colonies in the United States have been dying at high rates for over a decade, and agricultural pesticides—including fungicides, herbicides and insecticides—are often implicated as major culprits.....A new study is the first to systematically assess multiple pesticides that accumulate within bee colonies. The researchers found that the number of different pesticides within a colony—regardless of dose—closely correlates with colony death. The results also suggest that some fungicides, often regarded as safe for bees, correlate with high rates of colony deaths. The study appeared online September 15, 2016, in the journal Scientific Reports.

The researchers followed 91 honey bee colonies, owned by three different migratory commercial beekeepers, for an entire agricultural season....A total of 93 different pesticide compounds found their way into the colonies over the course of the season, accumulating in the wax, in processed pollen known as bee bread and in the bodies of nurse bees

Many articles have been written about endocrine disrupting chemicals and the numerous health problems they're linked to (see posts on them). It's been known for decades that endocrine-disrupting chemicals pose a danger to human health because the compounds can interfere with natural hormone function. Chemical exposure occurs through routine contact with plastic bottles, vinyl items, toys, food cans, cosmetics, flame retardants, and other consumer products containing "endocrine-disrupting chemicals". We ingest, breathe them in (inhalation), or absorb them through the skin as consumer products are used and also as consumer products break down (the dust).

Finally a study examines the financial cost of these chemicals - an estimate of more than $340 billion annually due to health care costs and lost wages (the authors say this is a conservative estimate). What can ordinary people do to lower their exposure to these chemicals? Avoid the use of pesticides in the home, lawns, and gardens. Eat as much organic foods as possible. Avoid buying food in cans, including soda. Store food in glass and stainless steel containers. Avoid microwaving in plastic containers (use glass instead). Avoid plastic bottles with the numbers 3, 6, and 7 on the bottom. Avoid vinyl items such as vinyl shower curtains and vinyl toys. Avoid fragrances (get unscented products). Read labels on lotions, shampoos, soaps, make-up - avoid phthalates and parabens. Avoid flame retardants (check the labels on new upholstered furniture). Avoid non-stick pots, avoid stain-repellant items, avoid air fresheners and dryer sheets. And that's just a partial list....From Environmental Health News:

Toxic economy: Common chemicals cost US billions every year

Exposure to chemicals in pesticides, toys, makeup, food packaging and detergents costs the U.S. more than $340 billion annually due to health care costs and lost wages, according to a new analysis. The chemicals, known as endocrine disruptors, impact how human hormones function and have been linked to a variety of health problems such as impaired brain development, lower IQs, behavior problems, infertility, birth defects, obesity and diabetes. The findings, researchers say, "document the urgent public threat posed by endocrine disrupting chemicals.” 

The researchers estimated costs by looking at exposures, then projecting 15 medical conditions linked to the chemicals and the associated health costs and lost wages. The findings are built upon calculations made by the Endocrine Society, the World Health Organization and the United Nations Environment Program. A similar study conducted in Europe found about $217 billion in annual costs due to exposure to these compounds. 

The U.S. public has greater exposure to flame retardant chemicals, due in part to stringent fire-safety rules. These compounds are added to furniture foam and electronics to slow the spread of flames. In Europe, pesticides were the main cost driver. Both flame retardants and certain pesticides can impact brain development when unborn babies are exposed..... Conversely, Europe has been much more proactive in tackling a particularly concerning groups of flame retardant chemicals called polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs).

PBDEs were the worst offenders in the U.S., accounting for nearly two thirds of the estimated health problems. PBDEs were estimated to annually cause about 11 million lost IQ points and 43,000 additional cases of intellectual disability to the tune of $268 billion. Pesticide exposure—the second most costly chemical group in the U.S.—causes an estimated 1.8 million lost IQ points and another 7,500 intellectual disability cases annually, with an estimated cost of $44.7 billion. The researchers also looked at common chemicals such as bisphenol-A (BPA), used in polycarbonate plastics, food tin cans and receipts; and phthalates, found in food containers and cosmetics.

Trasande said the study highlights the need to address endocrine disruptor exposure in the United States, especially as the country updates the federal Toxic Substances Control Act. The 2016 updates to the act, which regulates both existing and new chemicals, contained no mention of endocrine disruption, Trasande said. Chemicals should be screened for any potential impacts to human hormones before they hit the marketplace, he added. 

While many of these toxics linger in the body for a long time, people can take steps to avoid exposure. “We can ask questions about flame retardants and perfluorinated compounds when we buy rugs and furniture, and choose products without these substances,” Grandjean said. “We can choose to avoid tuna and other large predatory species of fish, and we can choose organic fruits and leafy vegetables.”  (Original study)

Image result for lawns with weeds, wikipedia Conserving native bees for their vital pollination services is of national interest. It turns out that an excellent way to save bees is to not treat lawns with herbicides (weed-killers) or any other pesticides. It turns out that lawns with "flowering weeds" (think wildflowers or flowering plant species such as dandelions and clover) are valuable nectar and pollen sources for all sorts of species of bees (and also for butterflies). And as much research shows, pesticides (insecticides, herbicides, fungicides) have all sorts of negative health effects - on humans, pets, and wildlife (here, herehere, and here).

Chemically treated lawns are "dead zones" with an absence of normally occurring plant species. In contrast, this study found 63 different flowering plant species in 17 suburban lawns that were NOT treated with any herbicides or pesticides over the 2 year study period. The bee species they found tend to travel only short distances and so lived within close proximity of the lawns with the flowering weeds. So do your bit for both human health and to protect bees, and don't treat lawns with chemicals. View what we now call lawn weeds as "spontaneous flowering plants" and that they are wildlife habitats. Of course using an organic fertilizer is OK, but just "mowing and leaving grass clippings" is also an excellent way to fertilize the lawn. From The University of Massachusetts at Amherst (press release):

To Help Bees, Skip Herbicides and Pesticides, Keep Lawns Naturally Diverse

Declining populations of pollinators is a major concern to ecologists because bees, butterflies and other insects play a critical role in supporting healthy ecosystems. Now a new study from urban ecologists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst suggests that when urban and suburban lawns are left untreated with herbicides, they provide a diversity of “spontaneous” flowers such as dandelions and clover that offer nectar and pollen to bees and other pollinators. 

Private lawns make up a significant part of urban lands in the United States, an estimated 50 percent of city and suburbs, say Susannah Lerman and co-author Joan Milam, an adjunct research fellow in environmental conservation. They write, “Practices that support nesting and foraging opportunities for bees could have important implications for bee conservation in suburban areas.” Lerman, an adjunct UMass Amherst faculty member who is also with the U.S. Forest Service, says, “We are still surprised at how many bees we found on these untreated lawns.” In this study of lawns in suburban Springfield, Mass., she and Milam found that “spontaneous lawn flowers could be viewed as supplemental floral resources and support pollinators, thereby enhancing the value of urban green spaces.”

For this study, supported by the National Science Foundation, the researchers enlisted owners of 17 lawns in suburban Springfield. Between May 2013 and September 2014, the homeowners did not apply chemical pesticides or herbicides to lawns. “We documented 63 plant species in the lawns, the majority of which were not intentionally planted,” the authors report. Lerman and Milam visited each yard six times per year for two years, collecting a total of 5,331 individual bees representing 111 species, of which 97 percent were native to North America.

Conserving native bees for their vital pollination services is of national interest, Lerman and Milam point out.....Overall, one of their main findings, say Lerman and Milam, is that “when lawns are not intensively managed, lawn flowers can serve as wildlife habitat and contribute to networks of urban green spaces.” Further, “developing outreach to homeowners and lawn care companies to encourage, rather than eliminate, lawn flowers such as dandelions and clover and thin grass cover or bare spots could be a key strategy for urban bee conservation programs targeting private yards.”

Original study from the Annals of the Entomological Society of America: Bee Fauna and Floral Abundance Within Lawn-Dominated Suburban Yards in Springfield, MA

Private yards comprise a significant component of urban lands, with managed lawns representing the dominant land cover. Lawns blanket > 163,000 km2 of the United States, and 50% of urban and suburban areas. When not treated with herbicides, lawns have the capacity to support a diversity of spontaneous (e.g., not planted) flowers, with the potential to provide nectar and pollen resources for pollinators such as native bees.....We collected 5,331 individual bees, representing 111 species, and 29% of bee species reported for the state. The majority of species were native to North America (94.6%), nested in soil (73%), and solitary (48.6%).

We recorded 63 different flowering plant species in 17 lawns during 2013 and 2014. Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) was the most widespread flower, found in all lawns in both years (Table 4). White clover (Trifolium repens), purple violet (Viola sororia), yellow wood-sorrel (Oxalis stricta), Canadian horseweed (Conyza canadensis), annual fleabane (Erigeron annuus), dwarf cinquefoil (Potentilla canadensis), and Pennsylvania smartweed (Polygonum pensylvanicum) were recorded in at least 60% of all sites for the two years (Table 4). In 2013, horseweed, hairy rock cress (Arabis hirsute), and white clover represented more than 67% of all flowers, whereas in 2014, white clover, yellow wood-sorrel, purple smartweed and purple violet were the most abundant species.

New research shows that the most applied pesticide in the world - glyphosate - is being detected in more and more foods (such as honey, wheat). Glyphosate is a herbicide (weed killer) found in the product Roundup. Its use is increasing annually due to its use on crops genetically engineered to tolerate applications of the herbicide ("Roundup Ready" corn, soybeans, canola).

The latest news is that glyphosate residues are found in oat products, including baby cereals. The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) only started testing this year for glyphosate residues in foods (see post), but they may already be slowing down testing - because they are already talking about shutting down one of the testing labs (tested honey). There are various health concerns about glyphosate and its residues in foods, including that it is a probable carcinogen and a biocide that may disrupt the bacteria of the human gut. What are the long-term health implications of constantly (daily) eating foods with pesticide residues such as glyphosate? No one knows, but it is concerning. Yes, individual foods have low levels, but we're ingesting the pesticide residue in many foods every day - thus chronic exposure. And yes, studies show that it is found in our urine (one European study found it in 100% of people tested)

Note that Monsanto (producer of the glyphosate product Roundup) also encourages farmers to apply Roundup right before harvest as a "preharvest dessicant" to non-genetically modified crops, which also increases the odds that residues will be found in food. (Look at the preharvest application guide from Monsanto for oats and some other crops). What can one do? Buy organic foods - because glyphosate is not allowed to be used in organic farming. From the investigative journalist Carey Gillam's article for Huffington Post:

FDA Tests Confirm Oatmeal, Baby Foods Contain Residues of Monsanto Weed Killer

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which is quietly starting to test certain foods for residues of a weed killing chemical linked to cancer, has found the residues in a variety of oat products, including plain and flavored oat cereals for babies.

Data compiled by an FDA chemist and presented to other chemists at a meeting in Florida showed residues of the pesticide known as glyphosate in several types of infant oat cereal, including banana strawberry- and banana-flavored varieties. Glyphosate was also detected in “cinnamon spice” instant oatmeal; “maple brown sugar” instant oatmeal and “peach and cream” instant oatmeal products, as well as others. In the sample results shared, the levels ranged from nothing detected in several different organic oat products to 1.67 parts per million, according to the presentation.

Glyphosate, which is the key ingredient in Monsanto Co.’s Roundup herbicide, is the most widely used weed killer in the world, and concerns about glyphosate residues in food spiked after the World Health Organization in 2015 said a team of international cancer experts determined glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen. Other scientists have raised concerns about how heavy use of glyphosate is impacting human health and the environment.

The EPA maintains that the chemical is “not likely” to cause cancer, and has established tolerance levels for glyphosate residues in oats and many other foods. The levels found by the FDA in oats fall within those allowed tolerances, which for oats is set by the EPA at 30 ppm. The United States typically allows far more glyphosate residue in food than other countries allow. In the European Union, the tolerance for glyphosate in oats is 20 ppm.

Monsanto, which derives close to a third of its $15 billion in annual revenues from glyphosate-based products, has helped guide the EPA in setting tolerance levels for glyphosate in food, and in 2013 requested and received higher tolerances for many foods. The company has developed genetically engineered crops designed to be sprayed directly with glyphosate. Corn, soybeans, canola and sugar beets are all genetically engineered to withstand being sprayed with glyphosate.

Oats are not genetically engineered. But Monsanto has encouraged farmers to spray oats and other non-genetically modified crops with its glyphosate-based Roundup herbicides shortly before harvest. The practice can help dry down and even out the maturity of the crop. “A preharvest weed control application is an excellent management strategy to not only control perennial weeds, but to facilitate harvest management and get a head start on next year’s crop ” according to a Monsanto “pre-harvest staging guide.”  Glyphosate is also used on wheat shortly before harvest in this way, as well as on other crops. A division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture....has been testing wheat for glyphosate residues for years for export purposes and have detected the residues in more than 40 percent of hundreds of wheat samples examined in fiscal 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012.

Even though the FDA annually examines foods for residues of many other types of pesticides, it has skipped testing for glyphosate residues for decades. It was only in February of this year that the agency said it would start some glyphosate residue analysis. That came after many independent researchers started conducting their own testing and found glyphosate in an array of food products, including flour, cereal, and oatmeal. Monsanto and U.S. regulators have said glyphosate levels in food are too low to translate to any health problems in humans. But critics say such assurances are meaningless unless the government actually routinely measures those levels as it does with other pesticides. And some do not believe any level of glyphosate is safe in food. 

In addition to oats, the FDA also earlier this year tested samples of U.S. honey for glyphosate residues and found all of the samples contained glyphosate residues, including some with residue levels double the limit allowed in the European Union, according to documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. The EPA has not set a tolerance level for glyphosate in honey, so any amount is problematic legally....the FDA did not notify the honey companies involved that their products were found to be contaminated with glyphosate residues, nor did it notify the public. The FDA has also tested corn, soy, eggs and milk in recent months, and has not found any levels that exceed legal tolerance, though analysis is ongoing.

 A new report authored by dozens of scientists, health practitioners and children's health advocates is highlighting the (growing annually) evidence that many common and widely available chemicals endanger neurological development in fetuses and children of all ages. The chemicals contribute to such health problems as ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, lowered IQ, behavior disorders, and many other problems. Many of the chemicals have hormonal effects (endocrine disruptors) and interfere with normal hormonal activity. The chemicals of highest concern are all around us and are found in most pregnant women, their fetuses, and in growing children. In fact, in all of us.

Especially worrisome chemicals are:  leadmercury; organophosphate pesticides (used in agriculture and home gardens), phthalates (in medicines, plastics, and personal care products), flame retardants known as polybrominated diphenyl ethers (found in upholstered furniture, car seats), air pollutants produced by the combustion of wood and fossil fuels), and polychlorinated biphenyls (once used as coolants and lubricants in electrical equipment, but still pervasive). It is important to note that out of the thousands of chemicals that people are exposed to, that the great majority of chemicals are untested for neurodevelopmental effects.

Especially alarming is that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control found that 90% of pregnant women in the United States have detectable levels of 62 chemicals in their bodies, out of 163 chemicals for which the women were screened. This shows that we are exposed to mixtures of chemicals - not just to one chemical at a time.  Unfortunately the substitutes for problematic chemicals are NO better than the originals, because they tend to be similar chemically. For example, the substitutes for BPA are just as bad, if not worse, than BPA (bisphenol A). And remember, we are exposed to mixtures of chemicals - not just to one chemical at a time.

The report criticizes current regulatory lapses that allow chemicals to be introduced into people's lives with little or no review of their effects on fetal and child health. "For most chemicals, we have no idea what they're doing to children's neurodevelopment," Professor Schantz (one of the signers of the report) said. "They just haven't been studied." So why aren't policymakers doing something? Why is industry dictating what we're exposed to? Why are chemicals innocent until proven guilty, and even then they're allowed to be used? Who is looking out for the ordinary person, and especially developing children?

From the journal Environmental Health Perspectives: Project TENDR: Targeting Environmental Neuro-Developmental Risks. The TENDR Consensus Statement

Children in America today are at an unacceptably high risk of developing neurodevelopmental disorders that affect the brain and nervous system including autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, intellectual disabilities, and other learning and behavioral disabilities. These are complex disorders with multiple causes—genetic, social, and environmental. The contribution of toxic chemicals to these disorders can be prevented. 

Leading scientific and medical experts, along with children’s health advocates, came together in 2015 under the auspices of Project TENDR: Targeting Environmental Neuro-Developmental Risks to issue a call to action to reduce widespread exposures to chemicals that interfere with fetal and children’s brain development. Based on the available scientific evidence, the TENDR authors have identified prime examples of toxic chemicals and pollutants that increase children’s risks for neurodevelopmental disorders. These include chemicals that are used extensively in consumer products and that have become widespread in the environment. Some are chemicals to which children and pregnant women are regularly exposed, and they are detected in the bodies of virtually all Americans in national surveys conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The vast majority of chemicals in industrial and consumer products undergo almost no testing for developmental neurotoxicity or other health effects.

Based on these findings, we assert that the current system in the United States for evaluating scientific evidence and making health-based decisions about environmental chemicals is fundamentally broken. To help reduce the unacceptably high prevalence of neurodevelopmental disorders in our children, we must eliminate or significantly reduce exposures to chemicals that contribute to these conditions. We must adopt a new framework for assessing chemicals that have the potential to disrupt brain development and prevent the use of those that may pose a risk. This consensus statement lays the foundation for developing recommendations to monitor, assess, and reduce exposures to neurotoxic chemicals. 

The TENDR Consensus Statement is a call to action to reduce exposures to toxic chemicals that can contribute to the prevalence of neurodevelopmental disabilities in America’s children. The TENDR authors agree that widespread exposures to toxic chemicals in our air, water, food, soil, and consumer products can increase the risks for cognitive, behavioral, or social impairment, as well as specific neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) (Di Renzo et al. 2015; Gore et al. 2015; Lanphear 2015; Council on Environmental Health 2011). This preventable threat results from a failure of our industrial and consumer markets and regulatory systems to protect the developing brain from toxic chemicals. To lower children’s risks for developing neurodevelopmental disorders, policies and actions are urgently needed to eliminate or significantly reduce exposures to these chemicals.

We are witnessing an alarming increase in learning and behavioral problems in children. Parents report that 1 in 6 children in the United States, 17% more than a decade ago, have a developmental disability, including learning disabilities, ADHD, autism, and other developmental delays (Boyle et al. 2011). As of 2012, 1 in 10 (> 5.9 million) children in the United States are estimated to have ADHD (Bloom et al. 2013). As of 2014, 1 in 68 children in the United States has an autism spectrum disorder (based on 2010 reporting data) (CDC 2014).

Many toxic chemicals can interfere with healthy brain development, some at extremely low levels of exposure. Research in the neurosciences has identified “critical windows of vulnerability” during embryonic and fetal development, infancy, early childhood and adolescence (Lanphear 2015; Lyall et al. 2014; Rice and Barone 2000). During these windows of development, toxic chemical exposures may cause lasting harm to the brain that interferes with a child’s ability to reach his or her full potential.

The developing fetus is continuously exposed to a mixture of environmental chemicals (Mitro et al. 2015). A 2011 analysis of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) biomonitoring data found that 90% of pregnant women in the United States have detectable levels of 62 chemicals in their bodies, out of 163 chemicals for which the women were screened (Woodruff et al. 2011). Among the chemicals found in the vast majority of pregnant women are PBDEs, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHS), phthalates, perfluorinated compounds, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), perchlorate, lead and mercury (Woodruff et al. 2011). Many of these chemicals can cross the placenta during pregnancy and are routinely detected in cord blood or other fetal tissues.

The following list provides prime examples of toxic chemicals that can contribute to learning, behavioral, or intellectual impairment, as well as specific neurodevelopmental disorders such as ADHD or autism spectrum disorder: Organophosphate (OP) pesticides, PBDE flame retardants, combustion-related air pollutants, which generally include PAHs, nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter, and other air pollutants for which nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter are markers, lead, mercuryPCBs .

The United States has restricted some of the production, use and environmental releases of these particular chemicals, but those measures have tended to be too little and too late. We face a crisis from both legacy and ongoing exposures to toxic chemicals.....The examples of developmental neurotoxic chemicals that we list here likely represent the tip of the iceberg....Only a minority of chemicals has been evaluated for neurotoxic effects in adults. Even fewer have been evaluated for potential effects on brain development in children (Grandjean and Landrigan 2006, 2014). Further, toxicological studies and regulatory evaluation seldom address combined effects of chemical mixtures, despite evidence that all people are exposed to dozens of chemicals at any given time.

Some chemicals, like those that disrupt the endocrine system, present a concern because they interfere with the activity of endogenous hormones that are essential for healthy brain development. Endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) include many pesticides, flame retardants, fuels, and plasticizers. One class of EDCs that is ubiquitous in consumer products are the phthalates. These are an emerging concern for interference with brain development and therefore demand attention.

Under our current system, when a toxic chemical or category of chemicals is finally removed from the market, chemical manufacturers often substitute similar chemicals that may pose similar concerns or be virtually untested for toxicity. This practice can result in “regrettable substitution” whereby the cycle of exposures and adverse effects starts all over again. The following list provides examples of this cycle: When the federal government banned some uses of OP pesticides, manufacturers responded by expanding the use of neonicotinoid and pyrethroid pesticides. Evidence is emerging that these widely used classes of pesticides pose a threat to the developing brain (Kara et al. 2015; Richardson et al. 2015; Shelton et al. 2014). 

When the U.S. Government reached a voluntary agreement with flame retardant manufacturers to stop making PBDEs, the manufacturers substituted other halogenated and organophosphate flame retardant chemicals. Many of these replacement flame retardants are similar in structure to other neurotoxic chemicals but have not undergone adequate assessment of their effects on developing brains. When the federal government banned some phthalates in children’s products, the chemical industry responded by replacing the banned chemicals with structurally similar new phthalates. These replacements are now under investigation for disrupting the endocrine system.