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Published by Madre Grande Monastery, Philosopher's Stone, Volume 1, Issue 3, Autumn 1991

Malathion and Pesticide Health Risks: Who Profits?
Mary Kempf

On October 24 this year, the "Los Angeles Times" reported the discovery of five new Medflies within a two-mile radius in the City of Los Angeles. Officials are scheduled to discuss the release of sterile Medflies instead of spraying Malathion. Previously, the established state procedure of Malathion bait application was followed by sterile Medfly release. Does this reflect a more responsible attitude on the part of the government that might open the door to a 100% non-toxic alternative? Let's hope so.

Malathion has cleared from the air and memories of many residents of San Diego, but not from mine. I am faced with a day-to-day reality that makes aerial spraying of Malathion a matter of my survival in Southern California, and in turn, brings about my concern for the future of many children that live and play in the aerial spray zones. The state maintains that the low levels of Malathion that have been used in our neighborhoods are safe. My experience and credible studies say that this is not so.

Chemicals "Hit Home"

I have the luxury of not needing to deliberate about the safety of the use of Malathion on my home. My hospitalization in 1986, diagnosed me with an immune system disorder called Chemical Hypersensitivity, or Environmental Illness. There is no cure for this of yet, and for now, avoidance of petrochemicals is the only way for me to continue to function and survive. Avoidance of pesticides and herbicides is not an easy task. Every public building and surrounding grounds such as our schools, parks, hospitals, theaters, apartment complexes, and retail stores, are sprayed as often as one time per month to once every three months with pesticide and herbicide. All state and county highways have a weed abatement program in which hundreds of miles of roadsides are sprayed at least three times per year. When the state applies Malathion aerially, I cannot go within ten miles for three days after the spraying without symptoms of burning, followed the next day by seizure activity. These applications have the potential to threaten my survival in Southern California, for instance if the health food store where I buy my food was sprayed. My sensitivity to pesticide is to amounts as low as parts-per-billion, which means that I have contamination problems for indefinite periods of time following a pesticide application. To seek refuge from the spraying, I moved from Orange County to San Diego County in March of last year, only to find that less than two months later, they were to begin spraying there. But I am fortunate to find refuge and now reside at Madre Grande Monastery, where pesticide is not used as a matter of principle out of respect for the earth and our health. I have acquired an immune system disorder that has rendered me disabled as a graphic arts and advertising professional since 1986. This is because of an inherited predisposition, as my mother is also chemically hypersensitive, and because of chronic low-level exposure to chemicals. Chemicals made my livelihood possible, and they fascinated me. For fifteen years, I was exposed to them around the clock. They worked magic. I watched images appear in the chemical baths in the darkroom, and in printmaking they were responsible for making my art images appear on paper. Soon my life became dominated by extreme fatigue, chronic infection, and memory loss, followed by the pursuit of fifteen medical specialists to seek help. With proper medical treatment, education, and removal of petrochemicals from my air, food, and water, the chronic fatigue, infection, and memory loss have been eliminated. But the damage that those years of exposure have brought about is still with me. Because of the severity of my illness, I lost my husband, my career in advertising management, and for extended periods of time since 1987, have had little or no shelter. I became intolerant to indoor environments, and as a result, I had to struggle to survive by living on porches, or under trees in remote areas. Though I was able to graduate to a custom-designed porcelain-on-steel trailer, from a Worker's Compensation settlement, my sensitivities still prevent me from being a productive member of our society.

Malathion Affects Many

There are many with this disorder in the Los Angeles, Orange, and San Diego Counties. Some have suffered the tragic loss of their homes to the aerial spraying with no recourse for them to recover financial losses because of their forced and permanent relocation. Others have had severe symptoms from short visits to the spray zone after a Malathion application. In an effort to stop the spraying in January last year, many citizens at the Orange County Board of Supervisors meeting reported their experiences as being contrary to the state's position. People were made sick, pets killed within days of the spraying, and there were a number of reports of a veterinarian finding a number of wild baby animals born deformed in the Medfly eradication zones of Los Angeles. A television special titled, "War on the Medfly", by Jeffrey Kay and Lyce Meckler, aired an interview early in 1990 with Dr. Paul Papanek, of the Los Angeles County Health Department. Judging by the number of complaints his office had received, he estimated a total of 11,000 people adversely affected by the Malathion spraying. Further estimates conclude that one in 300 persons had adverse reactions in Los Angeles County.

Children at Greatest Risk

The increased use of pesticides in our present day stimulates a growing concern for the future of our children, so much so that the " Journal of Pesticide Reform" responded by dedicating the entire Fall 1991 issue to the subject of pesticides and their effect on children. An article, "Intolerable Risk: the Physiological Susceptibility of Children to Pesticides", gives validity to our concerns by stating, "Although not required by federal regulation, some behavioral tests ... have been conducted which indicate that low-level exposure to organophosphates [Malathion] and carbamates during nervous system development [prenatal through childhood] may impair neurological activity." The specific impairments noted are "... delays in reflex and sexual development ... impair[ed] neuromuscular function, alter[ed] brain electrical activity, and in several cases affect[ed] brain structure." This article explains further that children's exposure to neurotoxic chemicals, for example with repect to pesticides in food, is greater than that of adults. Because of their higher rate of metabolism, children consume more food than adults in proportion to their body weight. Along with these greater amounts of exposure, they are also more susceptible to these exposures, because their critical physiological development is still in process. Scientific studies have found the young to have greater retention of specific doses of certain toxins. They are not as able to keep toxins away from target organs because the gastrointestinal tract is more permeable; and this is compounded by the fact that detoxifying enzymes are not fully functional in the young. The brain is an especially susceptible target organ of children with respect to neurotoxin or pesticide exposure. A great part of this is because of an incompletely developed blood-brain barrier, which inhibits the passage of toxic compounds from the blood to the brain. Other developments in the young are taking place such as: myelination, in which nerve fibers are being covered with a protective fat-like substance; formation of the new blood capillary system; branching out of nerve fibers; and newly developing neurotransmitters and hormone cell receptors. All of this increases susceptibility because neurotoxic chemicals can disrupt the formation of any of these systems. Along with individual studies, the references used for this article are certainly credible: the National Resource Defense Council, National Academy of Sciences, and World Health Organization. In the same issue, according to "Cancer Clusters Among Children: the Implications of McFarland", it is probable that pesticides are the most likely killer of six out of sixteen of the children that contracted cancer in the designated "cancer cluster". In the agricultural town of McFarland, California, the number of cancer cases is four times greater than the incidence of cancer in the average population. In February 1988, a preliminary report by the Task Force of the California Department of Health Services concluded that an "environmental aberration" occurred in McFarland and the cancers are now the result.

Study Results Manipulated

Even more critical to our overall picture are the implications of these cases, which enable us to analyze how responsible our government is in regards to the widespread use of toxic chemicals and its effect on our health. Can we wholeheartedly trust the state's assurances of safety in regards to the Malathion application on our homes? The McFarland article refers to the lessons of Love Canal, Times Beach, and Stringfellow Acid Pits. "We've learned over and over again that studies produce statistics to be analyzed away, that tests produce numbers to be classified into safe levels or standards, and that experts can find ways to explain away anything." It has been well publicized that the original author, Dr. Mark Lappe, declined to approve the study upon which the State of California has based it primary proof of the safety of Malathion. Lappe maintains that concerning the safety of Malathion, the government completely misrepresented his findings. Though the use of Malathion has been sanctioned by the EPA, in "War of the Medfly," Dr. Gross, also with the EPA, stated that he believes it possible that Malathion may cause cancer.

State Allows Hidden Toxins

Though these scientifically proven "facts" about Malathion safety seem to give way at this point to scientific opinion, our trust is shattered further in the light of new information released in February last year. It can be concluded from the information provided by the State of California Department of Food and Agriculture, that the impurities contained in 5% of the Malathion mixture actually possesses 33% of the killing power of Malathion itself. The most potent chemical, Malaoxon, is 60 times more toxic than Malathion. Other impurities listed are Trimethyl phosphoro thioate, which is 23 times more toxic, and Isomalathion, which is 12 times more toxic. This information was revealed after the Malathion program was underway because California state law does not require that impurities need to be disclosed to the general public. California state law also allows considerable latitude in the impurity concentration, which can be changed without notice; and thus, there is no limit that the unintended ingredients have with respect to the total Malathion mixture. If the impurities were to increase from 5% to 10% of the total, it would add a potency of approximately 80% of the killing power of Malathion. On the basis of this information, and considering the lack of legal restriction, how can we be sure of what is actually being sprayed upon us?

Positive New Directions

Though the health majority sees no immediate or apparent effects from the use of pesticides or the aerial application of Malathion on our homes, I hope that the questions raised, and the demonstrated losses of life, health, home, and livelihood, can raise public concern; which, in turn, will prompt careful re-examination of current methods and generate creative new alternatives to our use of pesticides. The information contained in an article by William Jordan, Jr., Ph.D., in May 1982 Natural History, challenges the black and white picture presented by the state concerning the threat of the Medfly. He points out that the Medfly is a tropical species and does not thrive in California's climate or its agricultural soils. Also, the Medfly is only a problem in a few fruits and vegetables. He suggests that alternative biological controls and integrated pest management can hold the Medfly population below damaging levels. In an encouraging report on May 29 last year, the \plain\cs16\i\f3\fs28 San Diego Union\plain\f3\fs28 revealed new evidence of the success of safe biological control methods for the cotton bollworm, launched by the California Cotton Pest Control Board. These methods have reduced nearly 100% of the test population in Coachella Valley; and also by using biological control preventive measures, " ... the San Joaquin Valley remains the only cotton growing area in the United States without a firmly established bollworm population." For almost twenty years, the Imperial Valley had tried and failed in reducing its established bollworm population with pesticides. Terry Wyatt, manager for Southern California Calcot, the nation's largest cotton marketing cooperative, explained that the costs of chemical control brought the profit margins and cotton production way down when the spraying escalated to 10 to 25 times during a season. This was because of the insect's increased resistance to each new type of pesticide. The new biological control uses three methods. The first one schedules a short growing season to increase a host-free period; the second uses synthetic pheromones, or female scents to confuse the mating male; and the third saturates the field with sterile bollworm moths. These ecologically sound methods also have the advantage of not losing their effectiveness with long-term use. Bill Tracy, deputy director of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, stated, "Because of this program, 80 million tons of pesticides have been avoided in the San Joaquin Valley." Though it will probably be a five- to ten-year period before Imperial Valley has control of the bollworm, the growers have an appreciation of this new-found ecology as expressed by Wyatt, who said, "There are no losers; you bring back an economically viable crop and at the same time, you protect the environment." In conclusion, for the sake of those already affected, and for those whose future health is concerned, I hope that our elected officials will bring about necessary changes. The state's Medfly eradication program needs to be altered so that it no longer poses a threat to our health, and especially the health of our children. Will the memory and satisfaction of having all the fruit available at the price we want it to be, outlast and outweigh the effects that the increased occurence of cancer and other health problems will have on ourselves and our children in the years to come?

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