Families' lives poisoned by crop spraying
Pesticides industry and Government accused of risking
the health of hundreds of thousands of people living near farms
Sunday May 2, 2004
They left London to raise a family in the rural serenity
of Lincolnshire. Now they fear the fields that surround their cottage
are slowly killing them because of the pesticides used to spray
Within a month of being born last July, Adam Spencer stopped breathing
twice after farmland was sprayed. 'He suddenly turned purple. I
noticed he had breathing problems and then he went limp,' said his
mother Helen. Paramedics were baffled about why the once healthy
8lb 6oz baby's airways had suddenly shut down.
On the first occasion she almost lost their son, every window in
their home had been removed for double-glazing. For hours, clouds
of acrid-tasting chemicals wafted through the property. Weeks later
Adam would almost die again after being caught in a cloud of chemicals
at his four-year-old sister's birthday party in the garden.
This week the Government will decide whether the laws on crop spraying
should be changed. At present, farmers are allowed repeatedly to
spray cocktails of chemicals right up to the windows of homes, schools
and offices. Nor do they have to inform residents when they use
pes ticides that could prove harmful, or even surrender information
on which chemicals have been used. Families insist only a sizeable
buffer zone can protect their homes. Pesticides can travel miles
in the air, studies say.
More than a quarter of a million people live next to farmland regularly
sprayed with chemicals. Now the issue has become a bitter battleground
with a network of families ranged against the multi-billion pound
pesticides industry and the Government.
Hundreds of families believe they are victims of pesticide poisoning,
according to a database seen by The Observer. Complaints range from
headaches and acute lethargy to cancers, birth defects and miscarriage,
symptoms that experts maintain are compatible with chemical poisoning.
Cancer clusters in villages encircled by farmland feature time and
time again on the compilation of suspect sufferers. Helen - not
her real name - has three friends who have suffered miscarriages
and knows four neighbours with cancer.
Whether action will be taken is up to Rural Affairs Minister Alun
Michael following a 10-month investigation by the Government's Pesticides
Safety Directorate. Of the original 758 people consulted in the
inquiry, more than 700 were from chemical companies or organisations
opposed to any new restrictions on the use of toxic chemicals. Professor
David Coggon, head of the Advisory Committee on Pesticides, even
suggests that those who think they experience adverse health effects
from chemicals may be imagining them.
Admitting the chemicals may be responsible for a cata logue of adverse
health complaints could leave the Government open to huge compensation
'The Government has continued to ignore the evidence of what is
happening in reality due to massive legal implications,' said Georgina
Downs, a leading anti-pesticide campaigner who was among the first
to link the chronic ill-health she and her family suffered with
the spraying of a field adjoining their Sussex garden.
Tests on the 31-year-old offer an insight into the cocktail of chemicals
ingested by those living in such areas. They found lindane and DDT
- both banned in the UK - as well as many other toxic residues in
her body fat.
Despite such findings, the Government appears unimpressed. Scientists
advising Michael believe pesticides remain safe if used properly.
A parliamentary response from Michael last month insists all pesticides
have been proved to be harmless to humans and the environment.
In sharp contrast, it is a federal offence in the US to claim pesticides
are safe. And a new study by Canadian physicists showed evidence
linking pesticide exposure to cancers. Children were particularly
vulnerable, it warned.