Letter: Low-dose danger of pesticides

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Sir: Your report "Pesticide apples add to Maff's troubles" (15 March) raises serious concerns.

Many people will be concerned about chronic low-level exposures to pesticides in their diet. The constant emphasis by Maff and its advisers on acute pesticide effects diverts attention from this serious public health issue. For instance, malathion, listed as a residue in the Maff report, was found to be one of several organophosphate pesticides which affected the immune system in laboratory test in the 1970s.

There are also large gaps in scientific knowledge about the immune and neurological effects of low-dose exposures to many pesticides. What may happen when pesticides at low levels are mixed perhaps in a wide range of fresh and processed food is poorly understood. Malathion, however, as early as 1957 was found to have increased toxicity when mixed with other pesticides.

The potential effects of long-term low-level exposure to pesticides on infants and children are also not fully understood. In the United States, research agencies conducted major scientific inquiries and special government offices have been established to review public health threats to children. Sadly no such actions appear to have been taken in the UK.

Your report notes very high pesticide levels in some home-grown apples. This would indicate that the risk to farmers and farm workers in orchards from applying these hazardous chemicals is also a cause for concern.

Dr ANDREW WATTERSON

Director, Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health

De Montfort University

Leicester

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