6 May 2003
Federal study finds increased risk for exposed farmers
By Bruce Henderson
widely used farm chemical may increase the risk of prostate cancer
in the people exposed to it, says a study of 31,000 N.C. farmers
and their wives.
federal study tracked more than 55,000 men in North Carolina and
Iowa, most of them farmers, who apply pesticides. It found that,
over a four-year period, 14 percent more of them developed prostate
cancer than would be expected in the general population.
45 pesticides evaluated, the study found possible connections to
prostate cancer in seven.
bromide was most widely linked to cancer. Applied as a gas, the
fumigant sterilizes soil before planting by killing insects, nematodes,
weeds and pathogens.
other pesticides -- chlorpyrifos, coumaphos, fonofos, phorate, permethrin
and butylate -- appeared to increase risks only among those with
a family history of the disease.
cancer was the most common N.C. cancer in the late 1990s, with about
144 cases in 100,000 people, according to state health statistics.
we're concerned about these results," said Anne Coan, natural
resources director of the N.C. Farm Bureau Federation.
N.C. farmers now use methyl bromide to prepare soil for tobacco
transplants, said Coan, who serves on a state advisory panel for
the health study. And farmers know more about pesticide hazards
than earlier generations.
no single alternative to methyl bromide exists, she said.
of pounds are still used each year, but methyl bromide is being
phased out of use worldwide because it depletes the protective ozone
layer of the atmosphere.
use in developed nations, including the United States, is to end
United States -- prodded in part by N.C. strawberry, tobacco and
pepper growers -- has asked the United Nations for exemptions that
would allow continued use of the chemical on a smaller scale. The
request says there is no practical alternative.
bromide is a heavy hitter and it's been on a lot of target lists
for phase-out," said Fawn Pattison of the Agricultural Resources
Center in Raleigh, which touts alternatives to toxic pesticides.
"We've been concerned about it both for health effects and
new report is part of a study of nearly 90,000 N.C. and Iowa pesticide
applicators and their spouses that began in 1993.
as the Agricultural Health Study, it involves the National Cancer
Institute, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
and the Environmental Protection Agency.
Carolina was chosen because of its diversity of agriculture.
1993 and 1999, 566 new prostate cancers developed among the 55,000
farmers, compared to the 495 predicted by its incidence rate in
the two states.
risk of cancer increased the more often farmers used methyl bromide,
and the longer they were exposed to it over a lifetime. Methyl bromide
is listed by the federal government as a probable occupational carcinogen.
cannot rule out the possibility that our observation occurred by
chance alone," said Aaron Blair, a National Cancer Institute
researcher who helped write the report.
findings would be confirmed, officials said, if more cancers than
normal continue to appear among the study subjects.