‘Bias opin­ion’

Re­tired bi­ol­o­gist sees red flags in re­port on pes­ti­cides

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - FRONT PAGE - THE GUARDIAN sshar­ratt@the­guardian.pe.ca Twit­ter.com/GuardianSteve

Re­tired bi­ol­o­gist sees red flags in re­port on pes­ti­cides.

A pes­ti­cide re­port is­sued by the Depart­ment of Health and Well­ness of­fers a “bias opin­ion” when it comes to es­tab­lish­ing links be­tween pes­ti­cide use and can­cer rates, says a re­tired bi­ol­o­gist with En­vi­ron­ment Canada.

Bill Ernst spent years work­ing on P.E.I. and con­tends while he is not an epi­demi­ol­o­gist, a few red flags went up when he read the “Pes­ti­cide and Hu­man Health” re­port posted on the depart­ment web­site just be­fore Christ­mas.

“There is con­sid­er­able bias in this re­port when they say agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion can’t go for­ward with­out the con­tin­ued use of pes­ti­cides…. that shouldn’t be a de­ter­mi­nant,” he said. “And it sug­gests that pes­ti­cides are needed to en­sure agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion, but in my ex­pe­ri­ence that’s not to­tally true. Pes­ti­cides can be re­duced and even elim­i­nated in some in­stances.”

Ernst spent 34 years with En­vi­ron­ment Canada in­volved in pes­ti­cides and toxic chem­i­cals used in P.E.I. and pub­lished widely in sci­ence jour­nals. He ad­mits his field is bi­ol­ogy, but sug­gests it is not easy to de­ter­mine how the con­clu­sions in the re­port are sup­ported.

The re­port said pes­ti­cides sold and used on P.E.I. are not as­so­ci­ated with the four most com­mon can­cers in the prov­ince and sug­gests elim­i­nat­ing the use of all pes­ti­cides in P.E.I. would have lit­tle or no im­pact on Is­land dis­ease rates.

It said there is ev­i­dence to sug­gest a pos­si­ble con­nec­tion be­tween pes­ti­cide ex­po­sure and a num­ber of types of can­cer like blood, bone mar­row, and lym­phatic sys­tem, par­tic­u­larly nonHodgkin’s lym­phoma. How­ever, the re­port then says that pes­ti­cides sold in P.E.I. were not as­so­ci­ated with the four most com­mon can­cers in the prov­ince - lung, breast, col­orec­tal and prostate can­cer.

“Pes­ti­cides used in P.E.I. do not pose a sig­nif­i­cant pub­lic health risk when used ac­cord­ing to Health Canada’s us­age and safety pre­cau­tion la­bel­ing,” says the Chief Pub­lic Health Of­fice.

Ernst says he knows govern­ment has to walk that “fine risk line”, but he ques­tions and how some of the con­clu­sions were reached.

“It’s well doc­u­mented that P.E.I. has a higher pes­ti­cide ex­po­sure po­ten­tial than oth­ers parts of the coun­try,” he said. “Pes­ti­cide ex­po­sure in the air is very com­pa­ra­ble to other parts of the world where pes­ti­cides af­fects have been doc­u­mented.”

The vet­eran sci­en­tist said pes­ti­cide use is a bal­ance be­tween ben­e­fits ver­sus risks.

“Ob­vi­ously P.E.I. is de­pen­dent on agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion and the eas­i­est way to en­sure that pro­duc­tion is with pes­ti­cides.”

He said the re­port makes a “leap of logic” when it in­di­cates that be­cause health ef­fects aren’t el­e­vated in P.E.I., there is no risk re­duc­tion achiev­able by re­duc­ing pes­ti­cides.

“The re­port would seem to in­di­cate that there is an el­e­vated melanoma oc­cur­rence in P.E.I. and there are sub­stan­tive links to pe­di­atric lym­phoma and leukemia with pes­ti­cide use and there­fore re­duc­ing any such risks would seem rea­son­able.”

Ernst said there is al­ways a strug­gle be­tween those that need pes­ti­cides against those who be­lieve it is bet­ter with less or with­out.

“There is con­sid­er­able em­pir­i­cal ev­i­dence on ex­po­sure which in­di­cates P.E.I. has one of the high­est by­stander ex­po­sure sit­u­a­tions in the coun­try and per­haps that should have been brought out,” he said. “And it’s em­bar­rass­ing that the most re­cent data on pes­ti­cide use was 2008. My rec­om­men­da­tion is to have an in­de­pen­dent, prefer­ably aca­demic, epi­demi­ol­o­gist to re­view this re­port.”

Ernst

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