October 5, 2011

Chemical concerns should steer
families toward organic food

By Avery Yale Kamila akamila@mainetoday.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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According to the federal Environmental Protection Agency, more than 1 billion pounds of pesticides are sprayed in the U.S. each year. In Maine in 2000, the most recent year for which the Maine Board of Pesticides Control could provide figures, farmers and foresters applied more than 3 million pounds of pesticides.

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The Environmental Working Group publishes its Dirty Dozen guide each year listing the most pesticide-contaminated fruits and vegetables. EWG says if you can afford to buy only select organic foods, these are the ones to choose.

In the face of this unhealthy trend, the Toxics Action Center, an environmental advocacy group, has worked with a number of Maine towns, including Scarborough, Rockport and Camden, to pass ordinances banning the use of synthetic pesticides on town-owned land.

"All of these efforts are driven by people's concern for kids' health," said Meredith Small, executive director of the Toxics Action Center.

The Maine Board of Pesticides Control does not have similar figures available for agricultural pesticide usage. However, in 2000, the most recent year for which the board could supply data, agricultural and forestry operations in Maine applied more than 3 million pounds of pesticides.

"The total sales of (pesticide) products in agriculture has been trending downward or staying flat," said Gary Fish, pesticide programs manager at the Maine Board of Pesticides Control. "The only crop that has been trending upwards (in pesticide usage) is blueberries."

When Blaisdell is asked by pregnant patients what can be done to reduce exposure to pesticides, she advises them to take a closer look at their food.

"In my own practice, I highlight that there is uncertainty as far as (the effects) of long-term exposure," Blaisdell said. "But I think it makes sense, in terms of your grandmother's sense, when you can, to know where your food comes from. Buy local and ask what pesticides are used. I do suggest organic foods for some of those foods we use on a daily basis."

And don't expect careful washing to protect you from pesticides sprayed on your foods. The Environmental Working Group found in a 1994 study that pesticide residues were still present even after fruits and vegetables had been washed and peeled, with apples, peaches and celery being the worst offenders.

People also consume these synthetic contaminants in drinking water. The U.S. Geological Survey reports that 90 percent of streams and 50 percent of wells in agricultural and urban watersheds contain pesticides. Filtration systems can help remove these toxins.

DON'T SPRAY AT HOME

The easiest way to cut your family's pesticide exposure is to not spray the chemicals on your lawn or around your home.

As Blaisdell recommends, seeking out cleaner food is another way to lessen your exposure. Even though organic produce can be contaminated by pesticide residue -- either from nearby conventionally grown crops or from pesticides approved for use on certified organic crops -- eating organically grown food remains a proven way to decrease exposure to these chemicals.

"We can significantly reduce the burden of pesticides in our bodies by switching to an organic diet," Spalding said.

In 2002, researchers at the University of Washington compared the urine from children who ate organic food with the urine from children who ate conventionally treated food. The results showed that children who consumed conventional food had six times the amount of pesticide residues in their urine.

Because organic food generally costs more to buy than conventionally grown and raised food, another option is to do what Struever does and grow some of your own food organically. Then there will be no mystery as to what you're putting in your mouth or your unborn baby's bloodstream.

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at: akamila@pressherald.com

Twitter: AveryYaleKamila

 

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