Modern agricultural practices have led to ever-increasing amounts of chemicals being used on our food, and whether we’re talking about pesticides, herbicides or fungicides, most have deleterious effects on health.
According to the latest report on pesticide residues in food by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), a mere 15 percent of all the food samples tested in 2015 were free from pesticide residues. In 2014, over 41 percent of samples had no detectable pesticide residues on them.1
That just goes to show how quickly our food is being poisoned. At that trajectory, we may eventually find out none of the non-organic food sold in 2016 or 2017 was pesticide-free.
Recent news has highlighted a number of problems associated with this out-of-control use of agricultural chemicals, starting with atrazine.
Atrazine, the ‘Forgotten’ Toxin
Atrazine, the second most commonly used herbicide in the U.S. after glyphosate, has been linked to many disturbing health effects. Despite that, it has not received nearly the same public attention glyphosate has. A recent KCET story2 with focus on atrazine notes its effects are in many cases actually worse than glyphosate.
“If it wasn’t for Roundup, atrazine would probably be the most controversial herbicide on the planet,” Chris Clarke writes. “It’s the pesticide most commonly found as a runoff contaminant in rivers, streams, lakes and wetlands.
It can travel hundreds of miles on airborne dust from the farm fields where it’s applied in order to contaminate those wetlands, and can persist for decades once it gets there.
It’s been linked to reproductive abnormalities in frogs, hormonal changes in alligators, and serious harm to other wildlife populations. And it can even promote fungal diseases in the soil by killing off beneficial fungi while leaving the pathogens.”
Atrazine Is a Potent Health Hazard
Atrazine is the most common water contaminant in the U.S., where it was initially approved for use in 1958. It’s been banned in Europe since 2005, and groundwater contamination was in fact one of the determining factors behind this decision.
An estimated 70 million pounds of atrazine are applied to agricultural fields in the U.S. each year, the vast majority of it being used on corn.3
Independent research4 shows atrazine causes hermaphroditism in frogs (turning males into egg-laying females) by inducing an enzyme called aromatase, which causes overproduction of estrogen. For this reason, atrazine is also suspected of contributing to breast cancer. Research has also shown atrazine:
- Blocks testosterone production
- Is a potent endocrine disruptor
- Chemically castrates wildlife and causes sexual reproductive problems in a wide range of animals, including mammals, birds, fish and amphibians
- Induces miscarriage in laboratory rodents
- Reduces immune function in animals
Studies looking at human cells and tissues suggest the chemical likely poses similar threats to human health. For example, one study linked atrazine exposure in utero to impaired sexual development in young boys, causing genital deformations, including microphallus (micropenis).
The evidence5,6 also suggests atrazine exposure may contribute to a number of different cancers, specifically breast cancer, ovarian cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, hairy-cell leukemia and thyroid cancer.
Elevated concentrations of atrazine in drinking water have also been associated with birth defects in the human population, including abdominal defects, gastroschisis (in which the baby’s intestines stick outside of the baby’s body) and others.
Bee Killing Pesticides Contaminate Drinking Water
Neonicotinoids, pesticides linked to bee die-offs around the world, are another water contaminant Americans have to contend with. Water testing by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in 2015 showed neonicotinoids are present in more than half of all streams tested.
Similar findings were recently made in Switzerland by the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology.7 There, watercourses were found to be contaminated with 128 different agricultural chemicals: 61 herbicides, 45 fungicides and 22 insecticides.
All streams and brooks tested failed to meet Swiss water quality standards. Thresholds for acute toxicity to aquatic life were also exceeded.
Now, a team of investigators at the USGS and the University of Iowa report8 finding three different neonicotinoids — clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam — in all samples of treated drinking water.9,10 Water treatment facilities simply are not equipped to filter out most pesticides.
The water samples were collected from taps in Iowa City and on the University’s campus. Measured in parts per trillion, neonicotinoids were found at concentrations ranging from 0.24 to 57.3 nanograms per liter.
While the concentrations were quite low, there’s really no telling what the health effects might be, especially when you consider all the other chemical contaminants found in most tap water. Research has shown that even non-toxic ingredients can have toxic effects when combined.
By acting on various pathways, organ systems, cells and tissues, the cumulative effects of non-carcinogenic chemicals can act in concert to synergistically produce carcinogenic activity. As noted by lead author Dr. William Goodson:11
“[W]hat we’re realizing … [is] that there’s reason to think that it doesn’t take one chemical to take it all the way from normal to cancer. One chemical can take it part way, another chemical will take it another portion of the way, and maybe a second, third or fourth chemical will take it all the way.”
Carbon Filters Can Significantly Reduce Pesticide Contaminants
In theory, water treatment will render your tap water safe to drink. But there are several limitations to the process that leave most tap water questionable at best.
Many chemicals simply cannot be filtered out. Pesticides, drugs, radioactive particles and fluoride are all common water contaminants that are very difficult to effectively remove…