pesticides

How a new generation of rat poisons menaces children

Part 2 of 2

A 1-year-old boy starts vomiting and experiencing diarrhea. Later, ripped-up remains of a container that held rat poison are found behind the family’s television.

A mother puts out two green blocks of rat poison and they disappear. Her 2-year-old son breaks out in a fever. His stool is colored bright green.

A 2-year-old boy walks into a room carrying rat poison. Seeing blisters, his parents whisk him to the hospital emergency room, where he is hooked up to a cardiac monitor for several hours

Scenes like these – which were documented in a government report – have been playing out routinely in American homes for decades. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has known for a generation that kids have too-easy access to these super-toxic rat poisons.

Every year, more than 10,000 kids are getting hold of them, and virtually all of these calls to U.S. poison control centers concern children under the age of 3.

Black and Hispanic children living below the poverty line are disproportionately affected. For example, a study in New York found that 57 percent of children hospitalized for eating rat poison from 1990 to 1997 were African-American and 26 percent were Latino.

EPA reported that these rat poisons “are, by far, the leading cause of [pesticide-related] visits to health care facilities in children under the age of six years and the second leading cause of hospitalization.”

Poisoned children can suffer internal bleeding, coma, anemia, nosebleeds, bleeding gums, bloody urine and bloody stools. Authorities have known for decades that thousands of children each year are exposed – although, fortunately, most are not seriously injured.

Known as anti-coagulants, the chemicals prevent blood from clotting or coagulating. One is known as warfarin – the same chemical sold to people as Coumadin, a prescription blood thinner.

Byline: 

Super-toxic rat poisons mysteriously seep into our world

Part 1 of 2

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – With the spooky glow of his headlamp illuminating an antenna in his hand, Paul Levesque stalks one of Canada’s last remaining barn owls.

“Are you getting anything?” research team leader Sofi Hindmarch asks over a walkie-talkie.

“I got it!” Levesque responds. Then a few seconds later, dejected, he radios back: “No. I lost the signal.”

Working in darkness, with the quarter-moon obscured by clouds, these two scientists are trying to figure out what an elusive, radio-collared owl is eating along this country road just beyond the suburbs that ring Vancouver. Their mission is to determine whether the decline of Canada’s barn owl is tied, in part, to super-toxic rat poisons.

Scientists know that at least some owls are dying under gruesome circumstances, bleeding to death from stomach hemorrhages in an agonizing and days-long decline. The culprit: An extra-potent class of rat poisons that has flooded the market in recent decades, designed to more effectively kill rats, a food source for the owls.

Scientist Paul Levesque tries to locate a radio-collared barn owl.
Photo by Paul Joseph Brown, www.ecosystemphoto.com

Six of 164 dead barn owls, barred owls and great horned owls in a 2009 western Canada study had rodenticide levels high enough to kill them outright, causing the fatal stomach hemorrhages. Pesticide readings in 15 percent to 30 percent of the others appeared toxic and seem likely to handicap owls in a variety of ways, scientists say.

Byline: 

Enviros urge last-minute calls to legislators to pass stormwater-cleanup bill; oil, agriculture interests opposed, with lawsuit threatened

Some interesting twists are developing in environmentalists’ campaign to convince the Washington Legislature to pass a tax on hazardous chemicals and petroleum products to clean up the No. 1 pollution source of Puget Sound, stormwater. Enviros say they need a flood of last-minute calls from constituents to prod legislators into action before they adjourn their annual session in Olympia Thursday night.

While Puget Sound is the focus of the debate, stormwater runoff is the largest source of pollution for many waterbodies nationwide, if the truth be told. That's one reason the machinations in Olympia are interesting – they may presage similar fights elsewhere in the future.

On one side are the enviros, city and county governments, labor, Gov. Chris Gregoire and the Democratic leadership of the House and Senate. Sounds formidable, eh? On the other side are the oil industry, farm groups, and possibly other opponents I haven’t learned about yet.

Not long ago I brought up how this bill to boost the tax on petroleum, fertilizer, pesticides and other hazardous substances was a bit of a pig in a poke. Collecting $225 million a year in the name of cleaning up Puget Sound and other water bodies, the legislation (HB 3181 and SB 6851) would have funneled more than two-thirds of the revenue straight to the state’s general fund in the first year.

Those roses you just bought seem to be causing "silent pandemic" of learning deficits among pesticide-exposed kids

The science journal’s wording is antiseptic. And yet the underlying story is heart-rending: Children exposed to pesticides in the womb while their mothers raise flowers for export to the American market are turning up later with learning difficulties. And then finally the authors leave the medical talk behind and warn of a “silent pandemic.”

Here’s a key passage:

"Only children with prenatal exposure from maternal greenhouse work showed consistent deficits after covariate adjustment, which included stunting and socioeconomic variables. Exposure-related deficits were the strongest for motor speed… motor coordination… visuospatial performance… and visual memory. These associations corresponded to a developmental delay of 1.5-2 years."

Whoa! So because of our need for pretty flowers, a 6-year-old Ecuadorian kid might have the motor skills of a 4-year-old! The new study in Environmental Health Perspectives notes that the impacts – which included slightly raising the exposed kids’ blood pressure, as well – are present even though the pesticides didn’t hurt the mothers.

Lots of the flowers Americans buy are from Ecuador, especially roses, with only Colombia outpacing Ecuador in selling roses to the United States. (And I'm not guessing there are very heavy restrictions on pesticide use there, either.)

The whole study hasn’t been posted yet, but the abstract gives the relevant details: 84 kids in an Ecuadorian village that raises lots of flowers were tested for pesticides. And their parents were interviewed about their exposure to pesticides. The results:

Intersex fish found across U.S. - which chemicals to blame?

The U.S. Geological Survey just completed a nine-year study in streams and rivers across the U.S. looking for intersex fish - males with female characteristics, like production of eggs, according toAlaska Dispatch. Largemouth and smallmouth bass were most affected, with 33 percent and 18 percent being intersex across the country, respectively. The full reportby Christopher Joyce is on NPR's All Things Considered.

Intersex fish aren't a new phenomenon, but this the largest study of its kind to be conducted in U.S. waters, according to the article. Scientists blame industrial and pharmaceutical chemicals, as well as personal care products like deodorant, cosmetics and shampoo. Many of these chemicals are "endocrine disruptors" that affect an individual's delicate hormone system.

We don't yet know if these chemicals are affecting humans. Many products containing them are not labeledin the United States, according to Samuel S. Epstein in the Huffington Post. It's difficult to isolate what is affecting other animals, since multiple chemicals could be mixing to form chemical cocktails.

The effects aren't restricted to fish. A resident in Montana has been tracking mutated jaws and genitals in deer and other animals for more than 13 years.