'Scientists say there is no acceptable dose to avoid brain damage. Its use is banned in several European countries. Yet its residues are found in fruit baskets, on dinner plates, and in human urine samples from all over Europe. Now producers are pushing for a renewed EU approval – perhaps in vain.
The name is chlorpyrifos. Here is why the chemical and its risks are almost unknown to the public.
Chlorpyrifos kills insects on growing vegetables and fruit.
Thomas Backhaus, professor for ecotoxicology and environmental science at the University of Gothenburg, says that the substance took a long time to be recognised as one of the "nasty" ones.
"In comparison with glyphosate, the active substance in Roundup, chlorpyrifos has been flying under the radar. When we talk of herbicides like glyphosate that kill weed humans can cope because we don't have chlorophyll and don't get directly affected. When we talk about insecticides, you have the problem that they affect all developing animals, including humans," he says.
Backhaus' concerns are well known in academic circles and shared by other researchers.
Philippe Grandjean, professor in environmental medicine at the University of Southern Denmark and Harvard School of Public Health in the US, notes that brain damage connected to chlorpyrifos have been found at the lowest detectable dose.
"That means by definition that you can't define a dose tolerable for consumption – that dose must be zero," he says.
The poisonous effect of chlorpyrifos on insects is not disputed.
The unresolved question is to what extent the usage of chlorpyrifos is dangerous to all living organisms like fish in nearby waters or farm workers in the fields, or to anybody eating the treated products.'
Read more: Chlorpyrifos: The Most Dangerous Pesticide You’ve Never Heard of
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