Pesticides and health problems: the link becomes clearer for six serious diseases

The six pathologies are three types of cancer (prostate, non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas, multiple myelomas), Parkinson’s disease, cognitive disorders and an active respiratory disease, COPD, according to the expertise carried out by INSERM (National Institute of health and medical research in France).

For the first four, the strong presumption link with occupational exposure to certain pesticides had already been highlighted during the previous INSERM expert appraisal in 2013.

In the light of the latest scientific knowledge, this list goes from four diseases to six: cognitive disorders (impairment of brain functions such as memory or reasoning, which can progress to dementia) and COPD are added in the update of the report released Wednesday by the public research organization.

To do this, INSERM did not carry out any measurements itself, but analyzed all of the existing scientific literature, i.e. some 5,300 study results.

The aim is to help policy makers, explained one of the heads of INSERM, Laurent Fleury, during a videoconference.

However, the experts do not make recommendations. Going further on what to recommend is neither our job nor our objective, underlined one of the experts, Isabelle Baldi.

It is high time for the government to take real action for a strong reduction in the use of pesticides, reacted François Veillerette, spokesperson for the NGO Générations Futures, in a press release.

The term pesticides includes all the products used to fight against undesirable plant species (herbicides) and pests (insecticides and fungicides). They are mainly used in agriculture, but they are found everywhere in the environment (air, dust, foodstuffs, etc.).

Out of 17 pesticides analyzed in the expert appraisal, 11 are associated with at least two toxicological effects among the three studied: oxidative stress, mitotoxicity – toxicity for the mitochondria, structures which allow cells to breathe – and action on the immune system.

Scientific knowledge has sometimes evolved since 2013. This is the case for cognitive disorders: we go from average presumption at strong presumption linked with exposure to pesticides, mainly organophosphates, among farmers.

For the residents of agricultural areas or the general population, taken into account by the most recent studies, the expertise concludes to an average presumption.

Likewise, the new expertise takes respiratory health into account, unlike the previous one: A strong presumption between occupational exposure to pesticides and the occurrence of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and chronic bronchitis has been established..

In addition, INSERM confirms that pregnancy and infancy are more vulnerable to the presence of a toxic event or agent.

In children, INSERM evokes a strong presumption link between acute leukemia and maternal exposure to pesticides during pregnancy. Even the father’s exhibition sometimes seems to be able to play a role: there is a average presumption for the acute lymphoblastic leukemia of the child in the event of occupational exposure from father in preconception period.

For tumors of the brain and spinal cord, the expert opinion concludes strong presumption of a link with parental occupational exposure before birth.

The same level of presumption exists for the link between maternal exposure to pesticides during pregnancy and neuropsychological and motor development disorders in children, or behavioral problems such as anxiety.

Finally, the expertise shines the spotlight on several particularly media-related substances. First, glyphosate, for which she concludes the existence of an increased risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma with a moderate presumption of association.

Then, chlordecone, long used in the Antilles (French Caribbean islands) and now banned. Expertise confirms a strong presumption of a link between exposure to chlordecone in the general population and the risk of developing prostate cancer.

The vast majority of substances for which there are links that have been found are no longer authorized in France, for agricultural uses in any case., reacted Eugénia Pommaret, director of the UIPP, which brings together producers of phytosanitary products.

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