Acute Exposure to Pesticides with Long-Term Consequences

Louise Pape’s life changed drastically in 1993. On a warm spring day, she and her husband were slowly driving home with the windows rolled down to en­joy the cool breeze. At the roadside she spotted a man from a tree care company wearing a gas mask and spraying pesticides on the trees with a large hose. Louise suddenly felt a shower of chemicals on her face, in her eyes, nose, and mouth, as the sprayer overshot his target. She later learned that the pesticide was a mixture of malathion and car – baryl (Sevin).

That incident was the beginning of a night­mare illness for Louise, an environmental planner who, ironically, had just finished developing a safe pesticide plan for her employer, a transnational corporation. She was disabled for several months with flu-like symptoms, aching joints and muscles, severe headaches, dizziness, thyroid problems, insomnia, and shortness of breath. She was of­ten bedridden and sometimes lapsed into a near comatose state upon reexposure to even minute amounts of pesticides. Louise eventually devel­oped full-blown multiple chemical sensitivity disorder. For four years, she was virtually home – bou nd, stil I unable to tolerate the trace amounts of pesticide and other chemical exposures that occur

EPA, in the face of overwhelming evidence of negative human health effects, does decide to ban a pesticide, the process is slow and fraught with compromise. For example, on June 8, 2000 the EPA agreed to phase out home and garden uses of chlorpyrifos,5 a known neuro­toxin that is the active ingredient in Dursban and Lorsban. Between 1991 and 1996, more than 17,000 cases of unintentional chlorpyri­fos exposure were reported to poison control during routine activities out in the world. Despite her illness, Louise and her husband have become articulate spokespersons in educating the public about the hazards of pesticides and other chemi­cals. The ranch home they built in 1995 has be­come a model for nontoxic living.


Many of the most harmful pesticides fall into three categories: organochlorines, organophosphates, and carbamates. In the above case, the onset of ill­ness was associated with a single large exposure to an organophosphate and carbamate mixture. The cause of the prolonged illness was obvious. In most cases, however, the cause is not so obvi­ous. Many people are exposed to repeated low – dose applications of pesticides, which can result in general malaise with flu-like symptoms, chronic fatigue, and subtle neurological deficits. When patients complain of such symptoms to their doc­tors, they are rarely questioned about exposures to pesticides or other chemicals. Most emergency room doctors are familiar with acute pesticide poi­soning, but few physicians have knowledge of the long-term, chronic effects of pesticide exposure.

centers. Although less toxic and nontoxic al­ternatives are available for all chlorpyrifos ap­plications, more than 11 million pounds of the ingredient were being applied annually. The phase out allowed:

• home and garden use sales to continue through December 31,2001

• existing stock to be sold in retail outlets until depleted

• continued use on food crops (except to-

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