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Pesticides 'may be putting young children at risk of cancer'

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
November 15th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Fruits and vegetables, the staple of any healthy diet may in fact contain many cancer-causing agents from pesticides. Doctors say this poses a strong threat to children, and put them at risk for developing cancer later on in life.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - A U.S. study has found that pre-school children are in particular danger of exposure to the dangerous compounds.

"Contaminants get into our food in a variety of ways. They can be chemicals that have nothing to do with the food or byproducts from processing. We wanted to understand the dietary pathway pesticides, metals and other toxins take to get into the body," Research leader Professor Irva Hertz-Picciotto, of California University in Davis says.

A study of 364 children, 207 of whom were less than five years of age, found safety consumption benchmarks were exceeded for arsenic, dieldrin, DDE and dioxins.

More than 95 percent of pre-school children exceeded non-cancer risk levels for acrylamide, which is a cooking byproduct often found in processed foods like potato and tortilla chips.

Pesticide was found to be particularly high in tomatoes, peaches, apples, peppers, grapes, lettuce, broccoli, strawberries, spinach, dairy, pears, green beans and celery.

"We focused on children because early exposure can have long-term effects on disease outcomes," Study leader Dr. Rainbow Vogt said.

"Currently the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency only measures risk based on exposures of individual contaminants.

"We wanted to understand the cumulative risk from dietary contaminants. The results of this study demonstrate a need to prevent exposure to multiple toxins in young children to lower their cancer risk."

The 2007 Study of Use of Products and Exposure-Related Behavior, or SUPERB surveyed households in California with children between two and five years of age to determine how their diets and other factors contributed to toxic exposure.

Specifically SUPERB homed in on 44 foods known to have high concentrations of toxic compounds.

"We need to be especially careful about children because they tend to be more vulnerable to many of these chemicals and their effects on the developing brain," Professor Hertz-Picciotto said.

The study published in Environmental Health outlines strategies to lower family exposure, such as organic produce has lower pesticide levels.

Toxin types were also found to vary in different foods. Certain pesticides may be found in lettuce and broccoli, while others affect peaches and apples.

"Varying our diet and our children's diet could help reduce exposure," Professor Hertz-Picciotto said.

"Because different foods are treated differently at the source, dietary variation can help protect us from accumulating too much of any one toxin."

In dissension, Eleanor Barrie, Cancer Research U.K.'s science information manager, says that fruits and vegetables remain very important in a young person's diet. 

"It's really important to remember that the levels of pesticides found in fruit and vegetables are usually very low, and there is no evidence that eating these small amounts of pesticides increases the risk of cancer.

"In fact, eating lots of fruit and vegetables actually reduces the risk of some types of cancer, so it's a good idea to get your five-a-day."

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