NZ Pesticide Use / Cancer Link Shows Need For Support

Two recent studies linking agricultural chemical use to increased bone marrow malignancies show the need for greater government investment into organic agriculture according to the Soil & Health Association of NZ.
Both studies released this month implicate pesticides used in New Zealand, and Soil & Health urgently wants further studies to focus on the commonly used fungicide Bravo (chlorothalonil). It is thought that Chlorothalonil is responsible for aggravating the health effects of other pesticides.
“Simultaneously as these studies are released, government funding for the successful Organic Advisory Program is coming to an end. A solution to worker and community exposure to cancer-causing pesticides is being allowed to ebb away just when New Zealand needs the added value of organics to enhance and protect community health and our clean green brand,” said Soil & Health spokesperson Steffan Browning.
“A government target for increased organic production can reduce the incidence of cancers in New Zealand, yet funding is consistently being withdrawn from the best example of healthy, sustainable agriculture, with the expectation that the pioneers of organics in New Zealand should fund future growth. Those pioneers have more than contributed already in an uneven playing field, while pesticide-happy producers have externalised their costs onto the health of their workers, families, community and the public health system. Enoughs enough. It is time for an organic vision from government.”
Massey University’s Centre for Public Health Research has just released an analysis of a study (1) of cancer patients that found an elevated leukaemia risk among horticulture workers, with risk to market gardeners and nursery growers, especially women, particularly elevated compared to the general public.
In a separate study released by US government health staff in the June 18 issue of the American Society of Hematology journal, Blood, (2,3) it was found that exposure to certain pesticides, including dieldrin and chlorothalonil (Bravo) increased the risks 5.6 fold and 2.4 fold respectively, of a blood disorder that can lead to multiple myeloma.
“Considering that dieldrin was banned in agriculture in New Zealand in 1968 and from other uses in 1989, Bravo may be a significant culprit in New Zealand cancers,” said Mr Browning.
Soil & Health has repeatedly brought attention to the risks of Bravo fungicide in New Zealand food production.
A 2004 statement said, “All recent samples of conventional celery tested by the New Zealand Food Safety Authority and Soil and Health separately, contained the environmental toxin and probable carcinogen, chlorothalonil, the active ingredient in Bravo fungicide.”
“Syngenta, the manufacturer of Bravo is now advertising to growers, New Bravo WeatherStik and in their own words, “Uncommonly persistent. Sticks and stays between sprays like no other”, with 64% chlorothalonil remaining after a 40mm 2 hour simulated rainfall.”
In 2007, ““New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA) also fails consumers with its food testing by using the spurious Maximum Residue Limit as a safety guide and takes no account of the cocktail effect of consuming multiple agrichemical residues (4).”
“Chlorothalonil the active ingredient in Bravo fungicide, is noted and down played in the NZFSA celery and spinach residue results. 16 and 13 results above the MRL respectively for 48 tests each, but the real fact is that celery only had 6 out of 48 tests chlorothalonil negative and 5 of those had other residues. The only one residue free celery sample of 48, would most likely be organic but was not differentiated.”
“Organic celery of course has no such pesticide residues.”
“Cancer statistics need to be evaluated in the high horticultural spray regions of New Zealand, such as Marlborough and Hawkes Bay, as anecdotal evidence suggests a higher than average incidence of cancers there.”
A fresh approach to food is needed in New Zealand and with a massive growth in organics internationally, it is time that targets for organic production (which is free of synthetic pesticides) such as in Soil & Health’s Organic 2020 vision, were taken on for New Zealand’s environmental, economic and human health.
Healthy Soil, Healthy Plants, Healthy People.
(1) Below or
(2) look at Lymphoid Neoplasia: Pesticide exposure and risk of monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance in the Agricultural Health Study
(3) Below or
(4) Lodovici, M. et al 1994,1997 These results indicate that the toxicity of low doses of pesticide mixtures present in food might be further reduced by eliminating diphenylamine and chlorothalonil.
Funding for the Green Party initiated Organic Advisory Program finishes this month although a significant growth in area farmed organically occurred during the initiative. Separate government funding for the organic sector lead agency Organics Aotearoa New Zealand is being wound down with the intention that the sector finds its own funding, although huge government money is still being spent on risky and failed science such as genetic engineering and for pesticide clean ups.
(1) Female farm workers at highest risk of leukaemia
Agricultural workers have the highest incidence of leukaemia of all New Zealand occupation groups, probably because of their exposure to chemicals, the University’s public health specialists have found.
And women agriculture workers are even more at risk than men, according to the Centre for Public Health Research.
The centre has just released analysis of a study started in 2003-04, when researchers interviewed 225 cancer patients aged 25-75 and 471 randomly selected participants from the general population.
They found elevated leukaemia risk four or five times greater among market gardeners and nursery growers compared to the general population. Market farmers and crop growers, and field crop and vegetable growers, also all experienced varying degrees of elevated risk.
The study builds on research published by the centre last year, which showed those working in plant nurseries were four times more likely to develop non-hodgkin’s lymphoma, while vegetable growers and those in general horticulture production have a two-fold risk of developing that disease.
Lead researcher for the latest study Dr Dave McLean says that market farmers and growers face a risk 1.8 times greater than the average population, probably due to exposure to pesticides. The overall risk appeared to be up to 3.4 times greater in women than men.
“It is not clear why this gender difference exists, but it has been hypothesised that it may be due either to the different tasks (and therefore potential for exposure) traditionally performed by men and women in horticultural occupations, or to the fact that some of the chemicals are endocrine disruptors that affect women in a different way than they do men.”
Such trends had also been detected in previous studies of workers in horticultural occupations in Italy, and in workers with occupational exposure to agricultural chemicals, such as fungicides and insecticides, in the United States and Italy.
Elevated risk was also found to be associated with having worked as a rubber and plastics products machine operator and also in the plastic product manufacturing industry, with the chemical 1.3 butadiene, which is used in their manufacture, a likely suspect.
An increased risk of contracting leukaemia was also suggested for other occupations including electricians, blacksmiths, toolmakers and slaughterers, along with those working in textile bleaching and dyeing.
Occupational cancers account for more than 300 deaths in New Zealand each year, with the National Occupational Health and Safety Advisory Committee estimating that 30 deaths annually from leukaemia are attributable to occupational exposures.
Oxford University Press, on behalf of the International Epidemiological Association, has published the Centre’s findings.
(3 ) Individuals who apply pesticides are found to have double the risk of blood disorder
Monday, June 15, 2009
WASHINGTON – A study involving 678 individuals who apply pesticides, culled from a U.S. Agricultural Health Study of over 50,000 farmers, recently found that exposure to certain pesticides doubles one’s risk of developing an abnormal blood condition called MGUS (monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance) compared with individuals in the general population.
The disorder, characterized by an abnormal level of a plasma protein, requires lifelong monitoring as it is a pre-cancerous condition that can lead to multiple myeloma, a painful cancer of the plasma cells in the bone marrow. The study will appear in the June 18 issue of Blood, the official journal of the American Society of Hematology.
“Previously, inconclusive evidence has linked agricultural work to an increased multiple myeloma risk. Our study is the first to show an association between pesticide exposure and an excess prevalence of MGUS,” said lead author Ola Landgren, MD, PhD, of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), which is part of the National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “This finding is particularly important given that we recently found in a large prospective cancer screening study that virtually all multiple myeloma patients experienced a MGUS state prior to developing myeloma.”
“As several million Americans use pesticides, it’s important that the risks of developing MGUS from the use of pesticides is known,” added senior study author and NCI investigator Michael Alavanja, DrPH.
The blood of study participants, who were individuals licensed to apply restricted-use pesticides, was assessed for MGUS prevalence. The median age of participants was 60 years (range 30-94 years), and all lived in either Iowa or North Carolina. Participants also completed questionnaires providing comprehensive occupational exposure information for a wide range of pesticides, including information such as the average number of days of pesticide use per year, years of use, use of protective gear while applying pesticides, and pesticide application methods. Information on smoking and alcohol use, cancer histories of the participants’ first-degree relatives, and other basic demographic and health data were also obtained. Individuals with prior histories of lymphoproliferative malignancies (such as multiple myeloma or lymphoma) were excluded. Cancer incidence and mortality were monitored annually, and, after five years, follow-up interviews were conducted to update the information about participants’ occupational exposures, medical histories, and lifestyle factors.
For comparison, data were obtained from a large MGUS-screening study conducted by the Mayo Clinic, and the results from the pesticide-exposed group were compared with the assessments of 9,469 men from the general population of Olmsted County, Minnesota. The two groups were similar in terms of age, race, and educational attainment. Because of the low prevalence of women among workers who apply pesticides, women were excluded from the study.
In the pesticide-exposed group, no MGUS cases were observed among those who were less than 50 years of age, but the prevalence of MGUS in those older than 50 was 6.8 percent, which is 1.9 times higher than the general population study group of men in Minnesota.
The researchers also evaluated the potential association between MGUS prevalence and 50 specific pesticides for which usage data were known. Of the chemicals studied, a significantly increased risk of MGUS was observed among users of dieldrin (an insecticide), carbon-tetrachloride/carbon disulfide (a fumigant mixture), and chlorothalonil (a fungicide). The MGUS risk for these agents increased 5.6-fold, 3.9-fold, and 2.4-fold, respectively. Several other insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides were associated with MGUS, but not significantly.
“There is great concern regarding the increase in frequency in mature B-cell malignancies in the Western world and what may be the cause of this. A number of reports in the past have linked exposure to pesticides with increased risk of these types of cancers, but the present study is the first to link agricultural work to a pre-malignant condition,” said John G. Gribben, MD, DSc, Professor of Experimental Cancer Medicine at Barts and the London School of Medicine, who is not affiliated with the study. “It is vital to assess the risk of workplace exposure and disease, and the results lend further support to providing safe workplace practices to limit exposure to potential carcinogens.”
“Our findings are intriguing,” stated Dr. Landgren. If replicated in a larger sample from our study and other large studies, further work should focus on gaining a better understanding of the molecular basis of MGUS and multiple myeloma. Ultimately, this will result in the identification of novel molecular targets involved in the progression from MGUS to multiple myeloma and in the development of targeted therapies.”
Reporters who wish to receive a copy of the study or arrange an interview with lead author Dr. Landgren may contact Patrick Irelan at 202-776-0544 or %20%%3E">.
The American Society of Hematology ( is the world’s largest professional society concerned with the causes and treatment of blood disorders. Its mission is to further the understanding, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disorders affecting blood, bone marrow, and the immunologic, hemostatic, and vascular systems, by promoting research, clinical care, education, training, and advocacy in hematology. In September, ASH launched Blood: The Vital Connection (, a credible online resource addressing bleeding and clotting disorders, anemia, and cancer. It provides hematologist-approved information about these common blood conditions including risk factors, preventive measures, and treatment options.
Blood, the official journal of ASH, is the most cited peer-reviewed publication in the field. Blood is issued to Society members and other subscribers weekly and is available in print and online at
Source: American Society of Hematology

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