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Pesticides and Reproductive Health

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Pesticides and Reproductive Health

Non-organic farmers and their partners may want to abstain from sex during the seven-month-long spraying season every year.

Non-organic farmers and their partners may want to abstain from sex during the seven-month-long spraying season every year. Urban pesticides applicators, year-round chemical-plant workers and distributors are also advised to consider the relationship between chemical exposure, sexual activity and health. Press reports indicate that golf courses use four times as many toxic pesticides per acre as the average farm, so golf course attendants and ardent golfers should pay attention as well.

Farm Family Health is published by Health Canada. An article in the fall 1999 edition entitled Herbicide Residues Found in Semen said, "Trace levels of 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) were detected in both urine and semen samples collected from pesticide applicators in Ontario in a recent Health Canada study."

The Pesticide Exposure Assessment Pilot Study was headed by Tye Arbuckle of the Bureau of Reproductive and Child Health at Health Canada. It may be the first study to make some initial estimates of exposure and comparisons between pesticide levels in semen and urine.

The Health Canada study tested urine samples taken before pesticide application as well as 24 and 48 hours afterwards. They also looked at single semen samples collected within 48 hours of application from 97 Ontario farmers. These farmers had recently used herbicides containing 2,4-D and MCPA on their farms. Approximately half of the semen samples had detectable levels of 2,4-D, ranging from zero to 650 parts per million.

The link between pesticides and reproductive health isn’t new. Several recent studies have explored the effects of exposure to pesticides on pregnancy outcomes (Farm Family Weekly, spring 1999). While none is conclusive, some studies suggested that paternal pesticide exposures may affect reproductive health and pregnancy outcome as much as maternal exposure. This may occur because chemicals can cause genetic damage to the sperm or hormonal imbalances.

"Looking at the consequences ... of a father’s exposure to toxic agents is an area of growing interest," reports Arbuckle. "Up to this point, most studies have concentrated on maternal exposures.

"Farmers and custom applicators will begin to void pesticide residues through their urine within 24 hours of beginning to spray," says Dr Allan Cessna of the National Hydrological Centre in Saskatoon. "The exposure to the product (pesticides) is 98 per cent dermal (skin) and mainly comes through the hands. Even people not involved in spraying will show levels of exposure."

"Herbicides are present in every water supply in western Canada," Cessna continues. "Some dugouts considered by 15,000 Saskatchewan families to be drinkable contain levels of pesticides as much as 1,000 times more detectable than European water supplies." Cessna adds he has yet to analyze water from a farm dugout that didn’t contain residues.

The provincial laboratory operated by the Saskatchewan Department of Health tests samples of water from farm wells. They do not test the samples for pesticides. Frequently I have heard farmers and their wives say, "My water test came back and it’s so good it’s fit for feeding to infants!" However, it was not tested for pesticides. And the provincial lab does not inform farmers that their water samples have not been tested for chemical pesticides!

The provincial government used to provide funds to the Saskatchewan Research Council to test the water supplies of small Saskatchewan communities for pesticides. When the Romanov NDP government was elected in 1991 the research grant to test small town water supplies was discontinued.

We must insist on proper testing of our water and support the shift to organic farming practice. Among many other reasons, our reproductive health depends on it.

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