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Ontario doctors issue pesticide warning

TORONTO (CP) - Ontario's family doctors are strongly urging Canadians to limit their exposure to pesticides after reviewing their "consistent" link with serious illnesses.

The Ontario College of Family Physicians made the recommendation after analysing numerous studies connecting pesticide exposure to cancer, reproductive problems, neurological diseases and other conditions, although at least one pesticide-industry group immediately objected to some of the findings released Friday by the doctors' association.

Dr. Donald Cole of the University of Toronto, one of the review's authors, could not say whether there's a safe level of exposure to avoid the risk of developing disease.

"Pesticides as in many chemicals are widespread in our environment, so we can't really say," he told a news conference.

But Cole was convinced of a link between pesticide exposure and a variety of neurological disorders, including mental and emotional health problems, and diseases such as Parkinson's.

Dr. Cathy Vakil of Queen's University in Kingston, another review author, said the links between pesticides and various forms of cancer are "compelling."

"Overall with respect to cancer this review provides compelling evidence of a link between cancer and pesticide use both occupationally and with home use," she said.

As a result, said the doctors, people should avoid exposure to pesticides "whenever and wherever possible," including using alternative methods of lawn and garden care and indoor pest control, and properly using personal protection equipment, including respirators, for home and occupational exposures.

"Many of the health problems linked with pesticide use are serious and difficult to treat, so we are advocating reducing exposure to pesticides and prevention of harm as the best approach," said college researcher Dr. Margaret Sanborn of Hamilton's McMaster University.

The college paid particular attention to health concerns among children, although it noted there have been few studies on the long-term effects of pesticides on youngsters.

The doctors found no clear link to any harm to the fetus in cases of pregnant women using the insect repellent DEET, which is commonly recommended to prevent against mosquito bites and potentially West Nile virus.

One pesticide industry group responded to the Ontario doctors' report by saying several regulatory rulings and expert panel reviews have cleared the chemical 2,4-D.

"The decisions of several regulatory agencies and expert panel reviews simply do not support the allegations that 2,4-D causes cancer or poses a risk to human health," said Donald Page, executive director of an industry task force representing chemical companies in Canada, the United States, Australia and Argentina.

The task force has said, for example, that the New Zealand Environment Risk Management Authority published a finding that determined 2,4-D does not cause cancer.

Page accused Ontario physicians of ignoring some facts.

"(The study) completely ignores decisions of authorities like the World Health Organization and recent studies by the U.S. National Cancer Institute," he said.

However, added Page: "Where we do find common ground (with Ontario physicians) is the need to improve our understanding of the actual exposure of children and other bystanders to domestic-use pesticides."


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