An Interview with Pesticide Expert and Toxicologist
Janette Sherman, M.D.
Endocrine disruptors, synthetic chemicals that mimic and interfere with natural hormones, lurk everywhere from canned foods and microwave popcorn bags to cosmetics and carpet-cleaning solutions. The chemicals, which include pesticides, fire retardants and plastics, are in thermal store receipts, antibacterial detergents and toothpaste (like Colgate's Total with triclosan) and the plastic BPA which Washington state banned in baby bottles. Endocrine disruptors are linked to breast cancer, infertility, low sperm counts, genital deformities, early puberty and diabetes in humans and alarming mutations in wildlife. They are also suspected in the epidemic of behavior and learning problems in children which has coincided, say many, with wide endocrine disruptors use.
Like Big Pharma, Big Chem holds tremendous sway at the FDA which gave the endocrine disruptor BPA a pass in March, citing "serious questions" about the applicability of damning animal studies to humans. But in April, research from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences presented new evidence of the ability of endocrine disruptors--in this case the pesticide chlorpyrifos, found in Dow's Dursban--to harm developing fetuses. Janette Sherman, M.D., a pesticide expert and toxicologist, has studied the effects of chlorpyrifos for many years and talked about what her research has revealed.
What is in our groceries? by Martha Rosenberg
Rosenberg: You published a paper in the European Journal of Oncology in 1999 which is eerily predictive of recent Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences research about children exposed in the womb to the pesticide chlorpyrifos (found in Dow's Dursban and Lorsban). This research found actual structural changes in exposed children's brains, especially related to emotion, attention and behavior control.
Sherman: Dursban (chlorpyrifos) is a pesticide manufactured by Dow Chemical Co. and Eli Lilly that has both organophosphate and tri-chlorinated pesticide characteristics and toxicities. Working as a legal consultant, I evaluated eight children with profound abnormalities whose families had proof of their child's exposure to chlorpyrifos in the womb. I was stunned by how much the children resembled one another--they looked so similar they could have been siblings or cousins. The children were all severely retarded and needed feeding and diapering. One had quadriplegia and another died soon after I examined him.
Rosenberg: In your 1999 paper you refer to the brain problems cited in the Proceedings research as possibly pesticide-related.
Sherman: Yes. The children also had corpus callosum defects, which means there was no connection between their right and left side of their brains.
Rosenberg: Where were the children located and where did you examine them?
Sherman: The children were in Arkansas, on Long Island and in California. The use of Dursban occurred in the homes. Since Dursban has been restricted from home use [ed. in 2000] of concern are agricultural use of chlorpyrifos that continues and questions of birth defects in women agricultural workers. I examined some of the children in their homes. In other cases, the parents brought them to be examined, if they had vans equipped to move the children.
Rosenberg: In addition to the mental retardation, paralysis and structural brain problems you found deafness, cleft palate, eye cysts and low vision, nose, brain, heart, tooth and feet abnormalities and many sexual deformities.
Sherman: Yes, the sexual and reproductive defects included undescended testes, microphallus, [tiny penis] fused labias [vaginal lips] and wide spread nipples. I also report in the paper, 13 adverse reproductive cases linked to chlorpyrifos from Dow's own research database. (European Journal of Oncology , Vol. 4, n.6, pp 653-659 1999)
Rosenberg: Anyone who is aware of the effects of endocrine-disrupting pesticides on wildlife can't help but think of the frogs reported with no penises in so many U.S. streams or the sexual abnormalities reported in both male and female birds and other animals.
Sherman: Yes, the children's defects mirrored effects of endocrine disrupters seen in wildlife. They also mirrored Dow's own rat studies which showed testicular and urogenital deformities, skull and sternebrae (part of breast bone) abnormalities and cleft palate in exposed animals, especially from in utero exposure to chlorpyrifos. (European Journal of Oncology , Vol. 4, n.6, pp 653-659 1999)
Rosenberg: Published studies, including your own, signaled safety problems with Dursban years earlier. The EPA's own data found eight out of 10 adults and nine of 10 children had "measurable concentrations." Dow paid $2 million for hiding Dursban's risks from 1995 and 2003 in New York. But the pesticide was not banned for residential use until 2000 and, after it was banned, people were allowed to use remaining quantities. Why did the cases that you and others uncovered seem to have little effect?
Sherman: Dow attorneys took my deposition for four eight-hour days in the mid 1990s and I supplied over 10,000 pages of medical records, depositions, EPA documents, patent information and toxicology studies on which I based my opinion. Even though genetic analyses were conducted for the paper and genetic causes for the defects were ruled out--siblings who were not exposed to chlorpyrifos, for example, were normal--Dow termed the cases genetic and was able to stop most, if not all, chlorpyrifos birth defect suits.
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