Pesticides, Food and Breast Cancer

Almost 10 years ago I instigated a group called The Rachel Carson League in Owen Sound whose mandate was to raise awareness about the harmful health effects of pesticides and work towards a local ban. After 2 years of political lobbying and promises but no action from local council members, I became frustrated, disillusioned, disappointed and withdrew my efforts, while others more patient than I carried on.

In April 2009, it became illegal to sell or apply pesticides for cosmetic lawncare in Ontario, Canada. The ban states that:  Pesticides cannot be used for cosmetic purposes on lawns, vegetable and ornamental gardens, patios, driveways, cemeteries, and in parks and school yards. There are no exceptions for pest infestations (insects, fungi or weeds) in these areas, as lower risk pesticides, biopesticides and alternatives to pesticides exist. More than 250 pesticide products are banned for sale and over 95 pesticide ingredients are banned for cosmetic uses.  The Ontario ban provides for the continued use of some banned pesticides for special applications, under strict oversight of the Ministry of the Environment. Other exceptions include combatting poisonous plants or disease-carrying insects.

And now the very good news: 168 stream water samples were taken over 2008 and 2009, representing the water quality before and after the ban took effect. Sampling points were selected in areas mainly influenced by residential run-off — away from golf courses, sewage treatment plant effluents, and agricultural applications. The samples were analyzed for 105 pesticides and pesticide degradation products. The results are dramatic: three pesticides estimated to account for half of lawn care product applications dropped by 86% (2,4-D), 82% (dicamba), and 78% (MCPP: 2-methyl-4-chlorophenoxyacetic acid). On the other hand, concentrations of glyphosphate (Roundup) and carbaryl did not drop significantly. The results for glyphosphate (Roundup) are attributed to continued use of this pesticide in certain exempted applications. The carbaryl results are not explained; perhaps this is due to the persistence of carbaryl in sediment.

I predict that in a few years we will see the breast cancer and childhood cancer rates decline slightly in Ontario as a result of this ban, as many pesticides have been shown to cause these cancers when studied in animals.

We can also be judicious in avoiding pesticides on the food we eat. The following chart from the environmental working group ranks fruits and vegetables in terms of least sprayed to most sprayed, top to bottom. When shopping for celery, peaches, strawberries, apples, blueberries, nectarines, sweet bell peppers, spinach, cherries, kale, collard greens, potatoes and lettuce – choose organic.

1 Best (Least Sprayed) Onions
2 Avocado
3 Sweet Corn (Frozen)
4 Pineapples
5 Mango (Subtropical and Tropical)
6 Sweet Peas (Frozen)
7 Asparagus
8 Kiwi Fruit (Subtropical and Tropical)
9 Cabbage
10 Eggplant
11 Cantaloupe (Domestic)
12 Watermelon
13 Grapefruit
14 Sweet Potatoes
15 Honeydew Melon
16 Plums (Domestic)
17 Cranberries
18 Winter Squash
19 Broccoli
20 Bananas
21 Tomatoes
22 Cauliflower
23 Cucumbers (Domestic)
24 Cantaloupe (Imported)
25 Grapes (Domestic)
26 Oranges
27 Red Raspberries
28 Hot Peppers
29 Green Beans (Imported)
30 Cucumbers (Imported)
31 Summer Squash
32 Plums (Imported)
33 Pears
34 Green Beans (Domestic)
35 Carrots
36 Blueberries (Imported)
37 Lettuce
38 Grapes (Imported)
39 Potatoes
40 Kale / Collard Greens
41 Cherries
42 Spinach
43 Sweet Bell Peppers
44 Nectarines
45 Blueberries (Domestic)
46 Apples
47 Strawberries
48 Peaches
49 (Worst) (Most Sprayed) Celery