How green is your green?
A pesticide commonly used on the turf at golf courses was linked to a whopping 250% increase in diabetes risk to the workers who apply the pesticides, according to one of the largest studies of its kind, by the National Institutes of Health.
The chemical, trichlorfon, was associated with an 85% increase in risk of diabetes for even infrequent users, and a 250% increase in risk for those who had applied it more than 10 times. Of those who used the chemical frequently, 8.5% developed diabetes, versus 3.5% of those who had never used it. The same pesticide has been used to kill cockroaches, crickets, bedbugs, fleas, flies and ticks, but its main current use is on turf, such as at golf courses.
It was the most extreme connection researchers found between pesticide applicators and diabetes, but not the only one. Use of any of the pesticides studied for more than 100 days in a lifetime increased diabetes risk 17%. The other pesticides studied were aldrin, chlordane, heptachlor, dichlorvos, alachlor and cynazine, all of which are chlorinated pesticides.
Diabetes affects nearly 21 million Americans, and rates of disease have been increasing dramatically in recent years, particularly among children.
"The results suggest that pesticides may be a contributing factor for diabetes along with known risk factors such as obesity, lack of exercise and having a family history of diabetes," said Dale Sandler, Ph.D., chief of the Epidemiology Branch at the National Institute of Environmental Health Services and co-author on the paper. "Although the amount of diabetes explained by pesticides is small, these new findings may extend beyond the pesticide applicators in the study."
The study focused only on adults whose work requires them to use pesticides repeatedly. That said, there were more than 30,000 people in the study, so the results have real statistical weight. Though the same pesticides are often used in households in off-the-shelf formulations, and though some can be found on residue in foods, researchers said the risk to the general population is probably low. Some of those pesticides studied have already been removed from the market because they were deemed unsafe for other reasons.
"This is not cause for alarm," Sandler said, "since there is no evidence of health effects at such very low levels of exposure."
Still, the study raises clear questions about the safety of these pesticides for workers, and if the results continue along the lines of similar studies of similar chemicals, health risks linked to lower exposures, particularly for children, may be only a matter of time. Families can take this study as another piece of evidence that the cure may be worse than the ill when it comes to dealing with pests around the house.
And for golfers, think twice about kissing your ball for good luck. (Better yet, ask some hard questions of your favorite golf courses and see if you can inspire some changes that will make the course safer for golfers, and the groundskeepers.)
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