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A Watchful Eye on Farm Families’ Health


WHEN I CAME OUT WEST EARLIER THIS YEAR, THERE
WERE A HANDFUL OF TOPICS I WANTED TO CHECK OUT IN MORE DEPTH. BIG-TIME AGRICULTURE WAS
AMONG THEM. I MEAN, IF YOU WANT TO SEE AND LEARN ABOUT MASS PRODUCTION OF FRUITS AND
VEGETABLES, THERE REALLY IS NO PLACE LIKE CALIFORNIA. FOR MOST CROPS OTHER THAN CORN
AND SOYBEANS, THIS IS REALLY THE BELLY OF THE BEAST, A PLACE WHERE MONOCULTURE OFTEN
REIGNS AND THE USE OF CHEMICALS IS OFTEN RAMPANT. I MET EPIDEMIOLOGIST BRENDA ESKENAZI OF THE
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA BERKELEY SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH. SHE’S AN EXPERT ON THE HAZARDS
OF CHEMICAL EXPOSURES AND FOR NEARLY 16 YEARS SHE’S BEEN MEASURING THE EFFECTS OF PESTICIDES
AND OTHER ENVIRONMENTAL CHEMICALS ON PREGNANT WOMEN AND THEIR CHILDREN IN THE SALINAS VALLEY.
IT’S CALLED THE CHAMACOS STUDY – CHAMACOS IS MEXICAN SLANG FOR KIDS. BUT IN THIS CASE
IT ALSO STANDS FOR THE CENTER FOR HEALTH ASSESSMENT OF MOTHERS AND CHILDREN OF SALINAS.
SO IN 1998, WE GOT FUNDED BY THE U.S. EPA AND THE NIH, TO LOOK AT THE EFFECTS OF ENVIRONMENTAL
CHEMICALS ON CHILDREN’S HEALTH. CALIFORNIA IS THE LEADING AGRICULTURAL ST
ATE IN THE NATION SO WE KNEW IT HAD TO BE SOMETHING ABOUT PESTICIDES AND AGRICULTURAL
CHEMICALS. WELL, WHAT HAVE YOU FOUND OUT? WE ENROLLED 600 WOMEN DELIVERING AT A COUNTY
HOSPITAL RECEIVING PRENATAL CARE AT A SERIES OF DIFFERENT COMMUNITY CLINICS SERVING MOSTLY
FARM WORKERS. INITIALLY WE WERE INTERESTED IN ORGANOPHOSPHATE PESTICIDES BECAUSE THEY
WERE THE MOST COMMONLY USED PESTICIDES. WE’VE LOOKED AT THE RELATIONSHIP OF THOSE
ORGANOPHOSPHATES AND SHOWED ASSOCIATIONS WITH NEURODEVELOPMENT.
LOWERED IQ, WHICH OF COURSE EVERYONE IS CONCERNED ABOUT, THE CHILD’S IQ.
YEAH, YOU DON’T WANT THAT. YOU DON’T WANT THAT, AND IT WAS ACROSS THE
BOARD. IN TERMS OF ENVIRONMENTAL CHEMICALS, THE MOST STRIKING FINDINGS ARE PROBABLY THE
RELATIONSHIP OF FLAME RETARDANTS WITH NEURODEVELOPMENT, FERTILITY. SO, YOU’RE NOT ONLY LOOKING AT
FARM CHEMICALS? NOT ONLY LOOKING AT FARM CHEMICALS.
WE’VE COLLECTED ABOUT A 150,000 BIOLOGICAL SAMPLES//AND MEASURED MANY DIFFERENT THINGS
IN THOSE SAMPLES. IT’S SO EXPENSIVE TO GET STUDIES GOING LIKE THIS AND IT’S HIGHLY UNUSUAL
TO FOLLOW A COHORT FOR THIS MANY YEARS, SO ACROSS THE WORLD WE ARE BEING LOOKED AT AS
A MODEL FOR HOW TO DO THIS KIND OF STUDY. IS THERE A TIME IN THESE KIDS’ LIVES WHERE
EXPOSURE SEEMED MORE DENIGRATIVE THAN AT OTHER TIMES?
SO FOR THE ORGANOPHOSPHATES, IT WAS ALMOST ONLY PRENTATAL IF YOU’RE LOOKING AT NEURODEVELOPMENT.
IF YOU’RE LOOKING AT RESPIRATORY SYMPTOMS, IT WAS PRENATAL AND POST-NATAL. MY CONCERN
IS MOSTLY THE PRENATAL PERIOD. THE PROBLEM IS THAT HALF OF PREGNANCIES ARE NOT PLANNED
AND THE PERIOD OF SENSITIVITY IS PROBABLY THROUGHOUT THE PREGNANCY. THERE’S OBVIOUSLY
SOME BENEFIT, ARGUABLY, IN USING PESTICIDES ON CROPS, BUT WE’RE TALKING ABOUT DIRECT DAMAGE
HERE. SO, HOW SERIOUS A PROBLEM IS THIS EXPOSURE AMONG FARMWORKERS?
I HAVE CONCERNS ABOUT EXPOSURES TO PREGNANT WOMEN. I DO FEEL THAT WE SHOULD SOMEHOW CONTROL
THE AMOUNT OF EXPOSURE THAT THEY HAVE. THE QUESTION THAT USUALLY PEOPLE ASK IS, DO I
EAT ORGANIC? I WAS GOING TO GET TO THAT, BUT GO AHEAD.
AND THE ANSWER TO THAT QUESTION IS, NOT EXCLUSIVELY, BUT AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE. BUT I ALSO RECOGNIZE
THAT ORGANIC IS MORE EXPENSIVE AND TO ME IT’S SO MUCH MORE IMPORTANT THAT PREGNANT WOMEN
AND CHILDREN EAT FRUITS AND VEGETABLES. RIGHT, SO DO YOU SAY, EAT FRUITS AND VEGETABLES,
WASH THEM CAREFULLY BEFORE YOU EAT THEM? IT’S EXACTLY WHAT I SAY.
NOW THAT MANY OF THE KIDS IN THE STUDY ARE IN THEIR TEENS, THEY’RE GETTING INVOLVED IN
PROJECTS TO LESSEN CHEMICAL EXPOSURES IN THEIR COMMUNITIES. AND WHILE THERE’S STILL PLENTY
OF DATA TO BE COLLECTED AND SHARED WITH OTHER RESEARCHERS, FOR BRENDA AND HER COLLEAGUES,
THIS STUDY HAS BECOME SO MUCH MORE THAN STATISTICS; IT’S ABOUT NURTURING THE HUMAN LIVES THAT
THEY’VE TOUCHED. YOU’RE LIKE ONE OF MY CHILDREN, YOU SEE? YOU
HAVE MANY MOTHERS. (LAUGHTER) LIKE OUR SERIES? SUBSCRIBE NOW TO CALIFORNIA MATTERS TO WATCH ALL OF OUR VIDEOS.

One Comment

  1. Penny Ellis Author

    And so washing produce carefully before eating goes for both organic and non-organic, however in the case of non-organic produce, pesticides and environmental chemicals get ABSORBED into the produce and cannot be "washed" off.

    Reply

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