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Myth 2: The amount of pesticide residues in food or water poses no risk

May 1, 1995

Pesticide Industry Propaganda: The Real Story: Myth 2: The amount of pesticide residues in food or water poses no risk

Myth #2: The amount of pesticide residues in food or water is so small it poses no health risks, or as one company's brochure puts it: "A child would have to eat 340 oranges every day to consume the amount of pesticide residues found to cause health problems in laboratory mice."

Here's the Real Story Behind Myth #2

In fact, some children are very likely being sickened each day by pesticides in food. A five-year, consensus National Academy of Sciences study found that "...for some children, exposures [to just five pesticides on eight foods] could be sufficiently high to produce symptoms of acute organophosphate pesticide poisoning" (NRC 1993a). This conclusion is based on a sophisticated probability analysis of actual exposures to pesticides in the food supply. The same analysis showed that 50,000 two-year-olds exceed federal safety margins for organophosphate insecticides each day, and that about 1,500 two-year-olds exceed these safety margins by a factor of ten (NRC 1993a).

If American children did eat 340 oranges, some huge percentage--30, 50, 70 percent, depending on the pesticide--would suffer health consequences (cancer, nerve damage, weakening of the immune system, or disruption of normal hormone function). If this were the case, we would have a public health crisis of unimaginable dimensions.

On the other hand, children are simultaneously exposed to many different pesticides from many sources--in water, food, and around the home. The U.S. Department of Agriculture found eight pesticides on individual samples of apples, seven on peaches, and six on grapes that were washed and prepared for normal consumption (USDA 1994). The FDA reported 103 pesticides on just 22 fruits and vegetables over a two-year period, and 67 pesticides and metabolites were found in Midwestern drinking water sources from 1987 to 1994 (Wiles et al. 1994).

Current regulations do not account for these multiple exposures, nor do they provide specific protection for infants and young children. The young remain unprotected in spite of a five-year, consensus National Academy of Sciences study that called for sweeping regulatory and scientific changes to protect infants and children from pesticides in food, water, and the home environment (NRC 1993a).