Across the disciplines, scientists have one thing in common: the perpetual quest for truth. The experimental process starts with a hypothesis; a theory we’d like to put to the test. We then devise a method to test that hypothesis and finally, we analyze the data. Sometimes we prove our hypothesis to be correct and other times we are surprised by the results. Either way, once the study is complete, we know a little bit more than we did before the experiment took place. That is how we learn and that is how we improve society.
Scale this process up from a simple “I wonder if my food will go moldy if I leave it in the fridge for a week” DIY investigation to the rigorous peer-review process required to publish a study in a respectable journal and you’ve got eyes like a hawk scrutinizing your every sample, statistic and suggested explanation. At this level, there’s no room for error. At this level, only hard facts go. And that’s exactly why it makes absolutely no sense that the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced that it will continue to allow the use of toxic insecticide, chlorpyrifos (CPF), despite the data proving its effects as a harmful neurotoxin for children.
If there’s one thing that has absolutely baffled me above all else during Trump’s administration, it has been the flagrant disregard for the scientific evidence that has been thrown at them left, right and center by individuals who have dedicated their lives to reporting the truth. Whether it’s the plethora of evidence proving the severity of climate change that threatens our very civilization, or the weed-killer glyphosate and its known carcinogenic properties, the government has consistently failed the American people by putting profits above public health and it’s an utter disgrace.
It seems a no-brainer to most, I’m sure, that if we know something is harmful to our health, we put an immediate plan in place to remove that thing from society. And yet, take a look around and we see quite the opposite. CPF is one such agent. This organophosphate insecticide is used throughout the United States and considered “an essential” by many farmers to prevent crop damage. Since its introduction in 1965, it has been used on a range of agricultural crops but also recreational lands like golf courses and parks. In 2000, after studies began emerging that suggested the potential risks of CPF to developing babies and children, the EPA identified the need to modify the use. However, it was entirely voluntary to do so, so its use remained widespread.
An eye-opening study in 2012 found a strong association between prenatal exposure to CPF and structural anomalies in the developing brain in childhood, including frontal and parietal cortical thinning. But the effects stretch far further across our anatomy than the brain alone; exposure to organophosphorus insecticides like CPF inhibits the enzyme that hydrolyzes important neurotransmitter acetylcholine. When this happens, we see cognitive impairments in children.
It’s not just our species that is affected by CPF either. Chlorpyrifos is known to harm marine life after it washes into our waterways. A 2018 study found that many marine mammals like whales, dolphins and sea lions lack the enzyme Paraoxonase 1 (PON1) needed to help detoxify CPF from the bloodstream. While terrestrial mammals like ourselves have this gene that helps us repair damage done to lipids, marine mammals, unfortunately, do not. And with millions of tons of the stuff washing off of farms each year, this doesn’t bode well.
The EPA has failed us in countless ways. From not putting a ban on sulfoxaflor–a pesticide deadly to bumblebees–to many other chemicals still in use today including CPF, it has an obligation to protect public health and is failing miserably. The troubling answer as to why such poor policies continue is that profits are simply too important and economic pressure too high to explore other, healthier options. Much like glyphosate giant, Monsanto, Dow Chemical Co has a vested interest in the continued use of CPF. And where there’s money, there’s power. A $1 million donation from the company to Trump’s inauguration in return for his support makes for a sinister and blindingly obvious reason why the government continues to disregard such alarming findings from biologists with years of research under their belts.
While I’d always encourage you to grow your own food and do so organically, the reality is that the majority of us urban-dwellers depend upon farmers to grow our veggies for us. There must be better policies in place to ensure that practices across the industry are safe for our health and that of the other flora and fauna that we share this planet with. As we creep ever closer to ecosystem collapse, the time is now to speak out against these malpractices. Compassion for babies and dolphins might not be doing the trick to sway the opinions of a small number of policymakers prioritizing profits above all else, but knowledge is power and the masses are hungry for it, so please keep the conversation going.
What are your thoughts on the use of harmful pesticides like chlorpyrifos?
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