New science confirms that exposure to pesticides — especially those classified as persistent organic pollutants (POPs) — can impair the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar, and can also promote obesity. Both these effects in turn increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
The recent study, led by Riikka Airaksinen of the Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare, measured levels of several POPs in the bodies of about 2,000 older adults. More than 15% of the subjects had type 2 diabetes, and researchers found that those carrying the highest levels of pesticides in their blood were most likely to suffer from the disease.
More than 25 million adults and children in the U.S. — 8.3% of the population — are diabetic. These new findings, according to Airaksinen, “point toward a cause-and-effect relationship” between exposure to POPs pesticides and diabetes.
Linking pesticides and diabetes is not new. In 2008, the National Institutes of Health studied 30,000 pesticide applicators and their families in North Carolina and Iowa, and found that pesticides were a contributing factor to diabetes.
The connection between POPs and obesity — a known risk factor in developing diabetes — is also well established. One recent study looked at blood levels of three POPs pesticides in 900 people, and found that those with higher levels of the chemicals were more likely to have more body fat.
POPs can persist in the environment and in the bodies of animals — including humans — for decades. Disregarding national borders, these chemicals travel on wind and water currents towards colder northern latitudes, and tend to eventually settle in the Arctic.
Diabetes rates have gone up alarmingly among Indigenous peoples in the Arctic, who often rely on a traditional diet of meat and blubber of marine mammals. Since POPs get more concentrated as they move up the food chain, these predator animals are often heavily contaminated with the longlasting chemicals.
PAN and our partners around the world continue to press for rapid elimination of POPs pesticides that are still in use.
And, RoundUp, RoundUp everywhere ...
Like many people, I once believed in the safety of RoundUp. Back in the 1980s when I was a young graduate student in ecology, it was the “safe” herbicide of choice for clearing weeds from study plots.
Monsanto would like us to continue to believe their flagship product is safe, but the data are increasingly saying otherwise. The latest? Widespread exposure is a near certainty, since RoundUp — now linked to birth defects — shows up regularly in our water and air.
Glyphosate, RoundUp’s active ingredient, was found in every stream studied and in most air samples taken in a recent study conducted by government researchers in Mississippi and Iowa. And it’s undoubtedly in other states too. Across the U.S. it’s used commonly on corn, soybeans, cotton and rice, to the tune of 180-185 millions of pounds in 2007 — more tonnage than any other pesticide.
And that’s only use on farms. RoundUp is also the second most commonly used pesticide in homes and gardens across the country.
Glyphosate has recently been linked to birth defects,* and at extremely low levels it can kill placental cells and disrupt the human hormone system. Yet regulatory authorities still only formally recognize its potential to contaminate groundwater.
SafeLawns recently pointed out that while glyphosate is not listed by EPA as highly toxic when inhaled, it may become highly toxic in the human digestive system where it is metabolized to N-nitrosoglyphosate — a chemical known to cause tumors.
It can be expensive to test for pesticides in air and water, which is why we haven’t before seen the kind of data recently collected in Mississipi and Iowa. Independent testing for health effects can also be costly. Yet these are precisely the kind of data that should be required for continued use of any product. Are we exposed? Does it harm us? How does it affect children’s health and development?
One common-sense solution: manufacturers should be required to fund (through not conduct) such testing if they want to keep their pesticides on the market.
EPA agrees to take action — eventually
EPA has set 2015 for deciding if glyphosate should continue to be sold, or should have its use in some way limited.
We know the regulatory process can be woefully slow, even when science is very clear that a pesticide is harming human health. Yet this remains one important route for grassroots efforts. Meanwhile, educate yourself and your friends about the serious threats posed by Monsanto’s biggest seller, and help build the public voice to get rid of it once and for all.
There’s a LOT more dirt on glyphosate — from additional impacts on human health to serious impacts on plant and soil health (my bailiwick). Stay tuned.
Editor’s note: * We previously mis-characterized the strength of the evidence linking RoundUp to birth defects by stating that it “is known to cause” birth defects. The referenced study does point to a link, but the conditions and levels of exposure under which RoundUp may lead to birth defects are not sufficiently established to warrant known causality. We regret the error.