Chlordane, of course

September 1st, 2009

The Stamford Advocate recently reported the discovery of elevated levels of pesticides in wells for a few homes, demonstrating how persistent these chemicals are environmentally. (“Stamford health tests find pesticides in wells near Scofieldtown Park” by Magdelene Perez.). The problem is by no means localized although contaminated residences are infrequently identified, revealing the hit and miss nature of our recognition for the widespread impact of pesticides in our daily lives. We are no less affected by older, banned pesticides than we are by those in current use. In fact, government agencies like the ATSDR inform us that over 50 million people have lived/are living in chlordane treated homes. Primary sources of exposure continues to be the ingestion of food grown on farms where chlordane was used prior to the ban on agricultural uses – back in 1983. A final ban on all uses was issued in 1988 but we are still doing battle with this persistent pollutant.

These agency resources tend to emphasize the frequency of pesticide use in southern states but northerners should not sit smugly in their contaminated homes. Chlordane was used quite frequently as a termite and ant control in construction as well as home maintenance throughout northern states. I found high concentrations of this highly toxic pesticide still present in two homes in Massachusetts – one built long after the ban on this poison went into effect.

Until the major pest control companies realize the importance of transitioning from predominantly chemical treatments of homes, schools and offices in the futile effort to eradicate pests, to actual pest management, few places will be free of this serious health hazard. Utilizing an understanding of what attracts and maintains pests in structures, it has already been proven that nontoxic pest control is effective. Factoring in the health care impacts, it is worth paying a higher fee for a longer visit from your pest control company to work on baiting perimeter areas of homes, identifying points of entry into buildings, eradicating food and water availability for pests in structures, removal of pests via mechanical means (including vacuuming) and – if needed – use of poisons known to be least toxic to humans based upon careful research and applied in a manner which will not affect residents. A well-intentioned applicator will still be unlikely to know the nature of the chemicals he or she uses, following the few hours of study required to obtain certification in pesticide application. The ‘spray and run’ method of management is a failure, leading to resistance in insect populations. That is generally met with applications of multiple types of pesticides despite the fact that combining such chemicals greatly increases hazards to humans. When calling a pest control company, ask if they have an entomologist on staff. Companies utilizing IPM or Integrated Pest Management will often boast of such consultants who provide tiers of treatment plans from least to most toxic, depending upon the severity of the problem. Do dandelions rank equally in your mind alongside fire ants as a hazard to your property? If not, be sure to check on what your lawn care company is planning for your yard. Read the contents on that bag of fertilizer you purchase if you are a do-it-yourselfer.

Test your homes for airborne contaminants and your wells/taps for waterborne pollutants. No one will do it for you. Your doctor will greatly appreciate the information if she/he is trying to figure out the etiology of your chronic medical problems. From the annoyance of sinusitis and irritable bowel syndrome to the debilitation of automimmune and neurodegenerative diseases such as lupus and Parkinson’s, environmental exposures are known to promote the wide range of illnesses impacting our quality of life today.

Chordane References: http://www.epa.gov/ttn/atw/hlthef/chlordan.html ; http://rais.ornl.gov/tox/profiles/chlord_c.shtml ; http://www.chem-tox.com/immunesystem/pesticides/pesticides.htm ; http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/phs31.html

My comments posted in the Advocate are as follows:

Residents should consider two other issues:

1. Absorption through the skin also occurs when bathing in the water.

2. Do not assume you are not inhaling it in the air of your homes either. Air testing of the homes is essential. I have measured chlordane in significant concentrations in homes in Massachusetts by running air purifiers for a week or so and having the hepa/carbon prefilters assessed by certified labs (out of state preferable). You could be breathing this if the foundation was dug in old farmland or chlordane was used as a termaticide when the house was built etc. It doesn’t appear to break down over time according to statistics of contaminated homes mentioned in government sites like the ATSDR.

When the public is advised that ‘life-style’ choices cause so many chronic illnesses not commonly seen in past decades, we would do well to realize that much of the contamination around us is unknown to us. Home, office and school testing is essential to understanding risks and symptoms which are not consistent with our ages and lifestyles. Having universal health insurance is the only way in which our citizens, exposed to the sins of our fathers in terms of persistent pollutants, can hope to deal with the resulting trauma. Disability at an early age before savings are possible, is a very real occurrence in this country.

Categories: Newspaper Commentary, Stamford Advocate

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