Pesticide Residues Pose Highest Risks for Children and Smokers: Study

Pesticide residue levels in food and tobacco put children and smokers at increased risk of health problems, indicate the findings of a new study. 

The findings of the new study were presented October 2, at the Predict Conference in Dublin. The study’s results are considered preliminary until published in a peer-previewed journal. The report was published by Irish data company Creme Global.

The study analyzed pesticide data in foods from the U.S. Pesticide Data program and analyzed dietary habits taken from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

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Researchers focused on five specific foods: tomatoes, apples, lettuce, strawberries, and rice. The analysis covered about 15% of a person’s total diet. Researchers then analyzed 10 chemicals commonly found in food and tobacco and the exposure risk people face from those products.

A recent study indicated strawberries, along with apples, potatoes, spinach, and peaches, are among the produce containing the highest levels of pesticides.

Researchers noted pesticides in food, tobacco, and marijuana production put children and smokers at risk, more so than the average adult. These populations are exposed to the highest levels of pesticide residues. The main exposure risk is from chlorpyrifos, which has been shown to cause serious side effects and are harmful to the development of children.

While on average, exposures were far below regulatory safety limits, the overall exposure was significantly higher.

Humans are exposed to pesticides after foods are sprayed during the farming process. This includes tobacco and marijuana. However, these chemicals accumulate in our bodies over time.

Studies indicate exposure to pesticides is linked to increased risk of autism and higher risk of cancer in children, as well as increased risk of Parkinson’s disease in adults.

For children, the risk was higher because they are exposed to twice the level of pesticides compared to adults. This is because their food consumption per unit of body weight is more than twice that of adults.

So, on average children eat smaller quantities than adults, but their body weight is much lower. This leads to higher exposure levels.

The study also included data on pesticide residues in marijuana and tobacco. Because of increased recreational and medicinal marijuana use, users are exposed to higher levels of pesticides than before.

Other studies indicate pesticides in cannabis transfer directly into mainstream smoke and then into the smoker’s body via inhalation, the researchers noted. Thus, any pesticide residues inhaled during marijuana use become a “practical danger” to the user.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does set safety limits, but for each individual chemical. The agency doesn’t combine exposure limits for exposures to multiple chemicals. Most people aren’t only exposed to just one pesticide in the food they eat.

Safety limits are also enacted based on average level of food consumption. So some people face a higher risk if they intake certain products in excess of the average consumption.


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