What children eat and breathe is toxic

Agrochemicals are not harmless, they are harmful. The Argentine Society of Pediatrics (SAP) has published a study that proves how harmful they are to children’s development. Crucial report because Argentina is an agro-exporting country that in 20 years (from 1991 to 2011) increased the use of chemical products by 1,279%, according to data from the National Institute of Agricultural Technology (INTA). In 2018 alone, 525 million kg / l of herbicides were used in our soils, according to information from the NGO Nature of Rights.

The lack of official statistics on the effects of pesticides on children makes the SAP survey an unprecedented milestone, something that marks a before and an after in pediatrics. According to the authors, “Although there are several publications that report the various harmful health effects of agrochemicals, we do not have a national pediatric-level document that summarizes the findings on the effects of pesticides on children and does not address this issue comprehensively.”.

In its report, the SAP warns that the health of children is at risk because pesticides are capable of generating effects such as attention deficit, autism and hyperactivity, which can lead to neurodegenerative diseases, hematological cancer and solid tumors. Alarming cases about which little was said, explains Dr. Pablo Cafiero, Developmental Pediatrician and Head of the Clinic of the Interdisciplinary Clinics Service at Hospital Garrahan, who worked on the eighth chapter of the study. “Among the most relevant agents for their effects on human health are pesticides. These effects have been poorly defined and underestimated and are generally not included in undergraduate and graduate training programs.

Over 12 chapters, the research covers an exhaustive analysis of the incidence of toxins in children, but also on earth, applying a systemic and multidisciplinary reading with the participation of engineers, physicians and scientists.

In late 2018, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food revealed that glyphosate “It is applied indiscriminately in Argentina, without taking into account the existence of schools or cities nearby.”, Proposing agroecology as a viable and successful solution. But stopping the use of agrochemicals appears to be taboo, something unthinkable, while other countries like France or Mexico have implemented projects aiming to reduce the use of toxins to zero by 2035.

Medrardo Ávila Vázquez, pediatrician, neonatologist and professor, explains in the seventh chapter of the SAP report that cities close to places where pesticides are used are exposed to a worrying risk. Because pesticides, already examined by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, are mainly carcinogens with different levels of evidence.

In Argentina, the most used chemical is glyphosate, about which Ávila Vázquez says: “Glyphosate genotoxicity studies emphasize the occurrence of DNA strand damage. When the damage cannot be repaired, when it is irreparable, those cells are not eliminated. Cell mutations can appear and persist that give rise to an autonomous lineage of uncontrolled cells, forming the beginning of the overt biology of cancer”.

Asthma is one of the most recurrent effects of the chemicals in question. “Exposure to environmental toxins may explain the upward trend in global asthma rates, as epidemiological research has correlated exposure to environmental chemicals, such as pesticides and others, with increasing rates of asthma. And experimental tests have documented some chemicals as causal agents capable of producing immune imbalances characteristic of asthma.” Explain.

In the report, in the seventh chapter, the case of Monte Maíz, a municipality in the southeast of the province of Córdoba, is exposed. There, in 2014, members of the Network of Doctors of Fumigated Municipalities and professors from the UNC Faculty of Medical Sciences carried out a study at the request of the mayor of the municipality. They used the same methodology as the International Study of Asthma and Allergic Diseases in Children (ISAAC) and found worrisome data: more than half of 13- and 14-year-olds in Monte Maíz must use inhaled bronchial dilators. In other words, there is a high risk of suffering from asthma due to the simple fact of living in that place.

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María Gracia Caletti, pediatric nephrologist and consultant at Hospital Garrahan, believes that the new SAP study, entitled “Effect of pesticides on child health”, It was created to cover a neglected debt of the Argentine State to its citizens: lack of laws, non-compliance with existing ones, lack of trained health personnel, lack of knowledge of the population and lack of medical records and statistics, among other factors. Agricultural activity, says Dr. Caletti, “It is implemented according to mainly economic criteria, and it has a series of deficiencies in the country that prevent the control of the use of pesticides and, thus, the protection of the population’s health.”.

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First hand details

Ignacio Bocles, physician and professor of the Embryology Chair at the UBA Faculty of Medicine, was in charge of the ninth chapter of the report, along with Dr. Damián Markov. They studied the effects of pesticides on embryonic development and the child’s nervous system. In dialogue with to biteBocles states that there is little information for pediatricians about the damage that pesticides cause to embryonic development from a work perspective: hospital-centric medicine, focused on diagnosis and treatment, forgets the causes.

Often, just thinking about diagnosis and treatment makes you short-sighted in relation to a much richer problem.”, He says and explains that for this reason the study addresses not only the medical issue, but also other spectrums of a complex issue.

Bocles says that there is a lot that is not known and that the scenario is quite arduous. The pollution load is itself very complex, he says, as interactions of many different chemicals coexist in the air, and each combination in each body has different effects. Asked why this particularly affects children, the embryology professor explains: “In a child, there is much more chance of causing chronic damage that he will carry with him for the rest of his life.”. This is because in the first years of life, while important tools for the child’s development are configured, the child presents a particular vulnerability. And so “the elements that are in the environment configure the possibilities of development in multiple variables. This increases the probability of developing chronic diseases such as diabetes or hypertension, the generation of alterations in motor skills or the involvement of hormonal regulators in the sexual or thyroid axis, for example.”.

To elaborate the embryology section that makes up the chapter, the study was based on animal models, as well as on studies carried out in humans. “We use a lot of animal models because the way to understand these congenital anomalies or these developmental problems is through a very controlled model.”, explains Bocles because when an agrochemical is inserted in the animals’ space, the effects are easier to assess.

From the first case of COVID 19 to the present, numerous official statistics have been released in this regard. However, there have been no official statistics on the effects of agrochemicals for over 20 years. Asked about this lack of information, Bocles affirms that the existence -or the absence- of statistics has clear reasons: “If there is one thing the pandemic shows, it is that when the decision to register actively and dynamically is made, it is easily executed. Lack of information is a political decision”. Dealing with the effects of pesticides is urgent because it is not a matter for a few, concludes the specialist. “All of us, urban and rural populations, are affected by these same chemicals that reach our bodies, and we have no decision-making power in this regard. We do not know which are the most toxic foods and it is outside the institutional discussion that we decide whether or not this is produced in our territory.”.

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