Charleston, West Virginia's capital city, sits in one of the most highly industrialized valleys in the United States. The siting of over 200 industrial facilities has earned the Kanawha Valley the charming nickname, "Chemical Valley." For the past 25 years, one of these facilities has been producing one of the most acutely toxic pesticides registered in the United States. Aldicarb, an insecticide produced by Bayer CropScience, has finally been banned by the EPA
after nearly three decades of use.
A new EPA study
found that aldicarb could expose children to up to eight times the level of the chemical that is considered safe. The highly toxic insecticide is used to kill insects on cotton and several food crops and is consumed by humans mostly through potatoes, citrus fruits and water. Aldicarb exposure can cause weakness, blurred vision, headaches and nausea. In very high doses, it can paralyze the respiratory system and even become fatal.
Bayer has agreed to end production of aldicarb, but it is under a phase-out plan that will allow production to continue until December 31, 2014. The pesticide will be used on potatoes and citrus crops until December 2011, and on cotton, dry beans, peanuts, soybeans, sugar beets and sweet potatoes until December 2014. I don't know about you, but I'm about to swear off the produce section of the grocery store for good.
I'm sure most people have heard of the 1984 Bhopal Disaster at the Union Carbide pesticide plant in India. Several thousand people were killed after a leak of methyl isocyanate (MIC) and other chemicals caused the world's worst industrial catastrophe to date. Apparently, MIC is one of the key ingredients in aldicarb's production, and it was aldicarb that was being produced when the Bhopal Disaster occurred.
Aldicarb was responsible for the worst known outbreak of pesticide poisoning
in U.S. history, when at least 2,000 people were sickened from a batch of aldicarb-laden California watermelons on July 4, 1985. The chemical was suspected of causing illness in Costa Rican banana workers in the 1980s, and was suspended for a brief period in the 1990s because of health concerns. The European Union banned most uses of the pesticide in 2003 due to safety concerns.
Why is it that here in the U.S. we continue to saturate our food in a chemical that has proved itself toxic time and time again? I don't believe that a phase-out program is appropriate for such a questionable product. It literally makes me sick to think that the same material responsible for thousands of deaths is entering our bodies and the bodies of our children through the fruits and vegetables that are supposed to keep us healthy.