A scientist who retired from the Environmental Protection Agency is asserting that the organization is failing to protect the public from harmful pesticides.
Karen McCormack, the retired EPA scientist, told Al Jazeera’s Fault Lines that she did not believe the agency was protecting the American public from toxic chemicals found in pesticides. Prior to her retirement in 2018, McCormack worked for the EPA for 40 years.
“In the last three decades that I have worked at EPA, it has been very rare for a toxic pesticide to be taken off the market,” she said in the interview with Fault Lines. “Just about every new pesticide application that is submitted to the agency is approved, no matter how high the risk.”
She added, as quoted by The Guardian, “If you do decide to work for the [EPA] pesticide program and you go up against the agricultural interest, it will not be good for your career.”
Why are pesticides concerning?
High pesticide exposure has been linked with short- and long-term health effects including a heightened risk of cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease, according to Healthline.
Scientists are worried about the potential health risks associated with one set of powerful pesticides called neonicotinoids (also known as neonics). One study found these pesticides in pregnant women, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that about half the American population has neonics in their bodies, with the highest levels in children. Neonics are also deadly to honeybees, which are important pollinators.
Paraquat, a toxic chemical that is used as an herbicide, is banned in 58 countries because of its links to Parkinson’s disease and certain types of cancer, as the Parkinson’s Foundation, publications such as Cal Matters, and scientific literature have reported. Meanwhile, its use is on the rise in the United States. A reporting initiative by The Guardian and The New Lede exposed years of corporate efforts to bury paraquat’s links to Parkinson’s disease and to influence the EPA.
What is being done about toxic pesticides?
Some nonprofit groups are advocating for change. For instance, the Center for Food Safety is pushing for the EPA to reexamine a loophole that allows the agency to overlook “inactive ingredients” when deciding whether a pesticide is safe to use on crops. So far, there are 4,000 inactive ingredients approved by the EPA, many of which could be harmful to humans and wildlife.
You can take steps to protect yourself from harmful pesticides at home by buying more pesticide-free produce. The Environmental Working Group’s 2023 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides and Produce lists the “cleanest” foods along with the “dirtiest” ones.
You can also buy directly from local farmers who use pesticide-free growing techniques, as a Michigan State University Extension website recommends. Remember that food labeled as organic is not necessarily pesticide-free. Washing your produce before eating it also helps remove pesticidal residue.
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