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Guest Blog: Investigation into Young Woman’s Death Points to Popular Insecticide Used on American Farms

By Donna Morin Miller

Twenty-three-year old Sarah Carter, of New Zealand, was enjoying a once-in-a-lifetime kind of holiday with two girlfriends. Tragically, she never made it back home. All three young women were guests in a Chiang Mai hotel in Thailand. They awoke the morning after their stay with sore stomachs and soon began to vomit. The symptoms became so bad they were hospitalized later in the day. Sadly, Sarah Carter suffered heart and kidney failure and died.

An elderly Bristish couple and a Canadian man also died after staying in the same hotel.

Although hotel management has blamed Ms. Carter’s death on food poisoning, undercover investigators from New Zealand’s 60 Minutes found traces of chlorpyrifos in the room where the three young women stayed. Prior to the girls’ visit, the hotel was sprayed for bed bugs.

Chlorpyrifos was formerly marketed in this country under the tradename Dursban. In 1995, Dow Chemical Company (now Dow AgroSciences), maker of the insecticide, was sued by the state of New York and forced to pay $2 million for falsely marketing the product as safe for home use.

Chlorpyrifos is an organophosphate, a class of neuro-toxins. Because of its potential danger to humans, chlorpyrifos was banned for residential use in 2001 by the EPA. Still a popular chemical of choice in American agriculture, however, the EPA estimates 10 million pounds or chlorpyrifos, marketed as Lorsban, is applied annually — mostly of it to corn.

Chlorpyrifos is also still allowed to be applied to golf courses, as a non-structural wood treatment and in adult mosquito sprays. The EPA recognizes that exposure can cause dizziness, nausea, and confusion, while very high exposure can lead to respiratory paralysis and death.

Organophosphates are a particular danger to children. Research continues to show their effect on developing brains, and have linked exposure to ADHD, low IQs and birth defects. Children are also more susceptible because they eat proportionally more food than adults, leading to higher exposure to pesticide residue on food.

Although Ms. Carter and her friends appear to have been exposed to acute, concentrated levels of chlorpyrifos during their stay at the Thailand hotel, what happens to us when we are exposed consistently and chronically? What happens when this chemical is combined with others to which we are exposed? How much is safe, and how much more unhealthy do we have to get before we say enough is enough?

Donna Morin Miller, who operates the popular blog site, is joining the SafeLawns Foundation this week as Communications Coordinator.

About The Author

Paul Tukey

An international leader of the green movement, Mr. Tukey is a journalist, author, filmmaker, TV host, activist and award-winning public speaker, who is widely recognized as North America's leading advocate for landscape sustainability and toxic pesticide reduction strategies.

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