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Allergies…to Pesticides?

by Ashley Carrier

How many pesticides have you encountered today?  If you say none, you will be shocked by the wide use of pesticides in your daily life. There was a time when my family paid no mind to how and where our fruits and vegetables were growing, and it almost cost us my brother’s life. 

The most traumatic day in my life could have been prevented if my family was aware of the consequences of pesticides.  It was like every other morning when my older brother Christian suddenly could not breathe on the walk to the car. My mother quickly got him to the hospital for him to receive treatment for anaphylactic shock, but we did not know what caused it. The nurses did not believe my mom when she told them that my older brother was not allergic to any foods, but the allergen test showed that my mother was telling the truth. Puzzled with the lab results, a team of doctors asked more in-depth questions about our daily life and environment until finally, one asked if they spray the cornfields with any chemicals that surround our house. Not knowing the answer to the question my dad called the farmer we were allowing to use our field, he admitted to spraying the herbicide dicamba the morning of my brother’s allergic reaction. Quickly the doctors and nurses performed the allergen test to see what pesticides, insecticides, and herbicides would have caused a reaction this severe. The results came back showing an allergic reaction to some of the most commonly used pesticides including malathion, anilazine, dichloropropane, chlorpyrifos, the herbicide dicamba, and the carbamate insecticide Temik. Because of the severity of my brother’s allergic reaction to pesticides and the likelihood that he will come in contact with contaminated foods my brother was given an EPI pen in case of exposure. What we did not know was how common exposure to insecticides, pesticides, or herbicides was. Studies have found trace amounts of pesticides in milk and fruit juices, making it difficult for people like my brother to know what food contains pesticides. (Fukuyama 2009) My brother went into anaphylactic shock the second time because of drinking chocolate milk only two weeks after we first learned about the allergy. That’s when we realized no matter how safe we were there were always going to be small exposures of pesticides that could trigger symptoms of anaphylactic shock. The doctors decided that the safest option would be for my brother to get biweekly steroid shots to lower his inflammatory reaction because of the likelihood of having a reaction.

If you are someone who is worried about your exposures to insecticides, herbicides or pesticides here are some simple life changes you can make to lower the exposure. Make sure none of the land surrounding your home has been sprayed with any type of insecticides, herbicides, or pesticides. We also do not spray the grass or our house for insect control or weeds. You can start buying all organic fruits and vegetables and make sure they are well washed before eating them.  For people who are not allergic but wish to lower their own exposure to insecticides, herbicides or pesticides I recommend using a website that lists the most exposed and least exposed fruits and vegetables to insecticides, herbicides, or pesticides. But the only way to guarantee that your fruits or vegetables are insecticides, herbicides, or pesticide-free is by making a home garden. In Washington D.C. an organization called Beyond Pesticides, a non-profit membership organization, is dedicated to the teaching of how to safely handle pesticides and alternative pest control options. The organization’s goal is to protect the air, water, land, and food from the hazards of pesticides. (“What Is beyond Pesticides?). Another website called the Dirty Dozen-Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce lists the fruits and vegetables that are strayed by the most pesticides. (Dirty Dozen 2021)

Next time you go shopping think of what could be on or in your fresh fruits and vegetables. While exposures to insecticides, herbicides, or pesticides might not mean anything in your life it would mean life or death to another person. Go to Dirty Dozen-Shopper’s Guide in Produce website to know what of your fresh produce is sprayed with the most pesticides. 

References

Fukuyama, Tomoki, et al. “Allergic Reaction Induced by Dermal and/or Respiratory Exposure to Low-Dose Phenoxyacetic Acid, Organophosphorus, and Carbamate Pesticides.” Toxicology, Elsevier, 23 May 2009, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0300483X09002674. 

Group, Environmental Working. “Dirty Dozen™ Fruits and Vegetables with the Most Pesticides.” EWG’s 2021 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce | Dirty Dozen, https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/dirty-dozen.php. 

“What Is beyond Pesticides?” Beyond Pesticides, https://www.beyondpesticides.org/about/our-mission. 

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