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Study confirms widespread OPs contamination in food

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field workers in India spraying tea leaves with organophosphates. The level of their exposure is known to cause a wide range of health problems, including serious risks to fetuses during pregnancy.

Field workers in India spraying tea leaves with organophosphates (OPs). The level of their exposure is known to cause a wide range of health problems, including serious risks to fetuses during pregnancy.

A new study published in Environmental Health Perspectives, moves us closer to understanding the health risks of pesticide exposure by making a connection between the food eaten and the pesticides present in the bodies of people who eat it.

Using data from nearly 4,500 people in six cities, the study looked at

(OPs), one of the most widely used type of insecticides in the United States. While overall use of OPs has declined over the past three decades, recent U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data found them to be among the top insecticides used on crops such as apples, peaches, and blueberries. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says more than 33 million pounds of OPs were used in the U.S. as recently as 2007.

Other crops commonly treated with OPs include broccoli, cantaloupe, grapes, green beans, lettuce, nectarine, oranges, pears, spinach, strawberries, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, mangoes, and onions. If you’re eating conventionally grown produce grown in the U.S., it’s more than likely that you’ve eaten some that was treated with OPs. Washing or peeling produce removes some but not all of the residues.

Organophosphates are toxic to the nervous system in people who are exposed to them directly. Breathing OPs can cause immediate acute adverse effects, such as headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, difficulty breathing. Long-term exposure can cause a range of neurological effects including memory loss, anxiety, and depression. Prenatal and childhood exposure has been shown to be harmful to developing brains and result in lowered IQ and other cognitive problems. These effects have been studied primarily in farm workers and their families and others living in agricultural communities and elsewhere that OPs have been used.

Studies have shown OP exposure among people living and working where these insecticides are applied, but the EPA reports that the primary exposure to most of us is through our food. In biomonitoring surveys, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found OPs in the urine of more than 75 percent of the U.S. population, indicating that exposure to be widespread.

Whether adverse effects may be occurring in people exposed to OPs solely through food is unknown. The first step is to determine the connection between levels of OPs in the body and food actually eaten.

George Freeman is a veteran journalist and photographer. An award-winning writer, editor and columnist in Springfield, Mo., with more than 50 years experience. His preference is for positive and uplifting stories about people, places, traditions and trends that make the Ozarks one of the most livable regions anywhere. A member of the Garden Writers Association of America, he is a past-president of the Society of Professional Journalists of Southwest Missouri, the Kansas and Ohio AP societies; a board member of Friends of the Garden and a member of the Rotary Club of Springfield. In 1976, he traveled to India as a member of a Rotary Foundation Group Study Exchange Team.

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