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Texas Agricultural Workers May Be At A Higher Risk For Brain Cancer

Aug 18, 2007
Brain cancer risks increase with heavy exposure to pesticides, recent reports say. That's troubling news for states with large agricultural industries, like Texas, which not only employs millions of legal and illegal workers every year, but also has over 25% of its population going without health insurance.

French researcher, Dr. Isabelle Baldi, and colleagues from the University of Bordeaux compared 221 adult brain cancer patients with 442 similarly-profiled members of the general population without cancer. The study found that "agricultural workers with the highest level of exposure to pesticides (are) twice as likely to be diagnosed with brain cancer as those with no occupational pesticide exposure."

Baldi's study focused on France's famous Bordeaux region, which has one of the highest brain cancer rates in the world. Though she could not release specifics on which pesticides were used, the region, with its substantial vineyards, uses large quantities of fungicides.

According to an article released in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, gliomas, a type of tumor associated with brain cancer, are three times as likely to occur in exposed workers as those with no pesticide work exposure.

The study was also the first to produce statistically relevant data suggesting that those who treated their houseplants with pesticides were at a higher risk for brain cancer as well. Again, the cancer risk was approximately double, as compared with those who never used pesticides. Baldi warned that further research was needed to confirm this link, as no controls were in place for pesticide levels and reporting biases.

Previous research from other scholars found that pesticide exposure among farmers was linked with adverse effects on the brain, including Parkinson's disease.

All this only fuels the debate over organic, versus conventionally-grown foods, which is as hot a topic in Texas as anywhere else in the country. Recent reports that the average conventional crop is 13% lower in nutrient content than the same crop produced a few decades ago, also seems to add to the stack of evidence in favor of organic systems.

No one in Texas is immune to the risks these products pose. The state already experiences 13 fatal injuries for every 100,000 agricultural workers, which is twice the rate of all workers in Texas. Chronic diseases and cancer, however, may take years to develop. Considering that agricultural pesticide use has skyrocketed over the last several decades, the prevalence of brain cancer -- and that of other brain disorders linked with these pesticides -- may skyrocket in years to come. Such a surge has the potential to cripple an already perilously strained state healthcare system, especially when one-quarter of all residents are uninsured. And, if Baldi's preliminary findings on the cancer risk associated with household pesticide use proves correct, then everyone, including residents of cities like Dallas, Houston, and Austin, is in danger.

Just the ripple effect in the healthcare system alone may be cause for alarm. If an already strained system administers the necessary, expensive, and time-consuming treatments for uninsured patients with brain cancer, along with treating the rest of the state -- with its usual high rates of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, hypertension, and other cancers -- then those in need of care throughout the state will feel the effects of limited resources. There are only so many doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals to go around; there's only so much public funding. Longer waiting periods alone for those with such serious diseases could prove deadly. And, unfortunately, this year has been a pivotal one for proving the ineffectiveness of our public system; the Commonwealth Fund confirmed only last month that lack of health insurance is linked with poorer quality of care in the United States.

So what do we do? Limit unnecessary pesticide use, first of all, whether you're a farmer, agricultural worker, or a green-thumbed city dweller. Look for alternatives, which are easily found in natural gardening and health food stores. Write pesticide companies and your Congressional representatives; state your concerns and let them know that serous investigations at this point are necessary. Information is the greatest chance we have of protecting ourselves and our children. Though Baldi's study was performed in France, many of the same, or similar, pesticides are used in several countries, including our own. If we figure out and cut off the dangers now, we may literally be able to save thousands, or even millions, of lives.

Being concerned about environmental toxins is just one part of taking care of your health. How you take care of yourself will certainly affect you as you age, and eventually your wallet, as well.
About the Author
Pat Carpenter writes for Precedent Insurance Company. Precedent puts a new spin on health insurance. Learn more at Precedent.com
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