A little-known pesticide is likely present in the bodies of most U.S. residents, raising concerns of potential reproductive and developmental problems, researchers report.

In the study, the pesticide chlormequat was found in four out of five people they tested.

“The ubiquity of this little-studied pesticide in people raises alarm bells about how it could potentially cause harm without anyone even knowing they’ve consumed it,” said lead researcher Alexis Temkin, a toxicologist with the Environmental Working Group (EWG).

Urine tests revealed the presence of chlormequat in 77 out of 96 U.S. residents tested in 2023, results show.

The tests also found chlormequat at higher concentrations than in prior years, suggesting that exposure to the pesticide could be on the rise.

The findings were published Feb. 15 in the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology.

Animal studies have shown that chlormequat can damage the reproductive system and disrupt fetal growth. Specifically, it’s been shown to alter development of the head and bones and interfere with key metabolic processes.

Environmental Protection Agency regulations have restricted the pesticide for use only in ornamental plants in the United States, forbidding its use in food crops, the researchers said.

But since 2018, the EPA has permitted chlormequat on imported oats and other foods. Chlormequat stops oat and grain crops from bending over while growing, making them easier to harvest, the EWG says.

The 2018 regulatory change took place under former President Donald Trump, as did a subsequent increase in the allowed amount in 2020.

Further, the EPA under President Joe Biden has proposed allowing the first-ever use of chlormequat on barley, oats and wheat in response to an application submitted by chlormequat manufacturer Taminco, the researchers said.

The EWG is urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to test foods for chlormequat. It also says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should add the pesticide to its bio-monitoring program.

“The federal government has a vital role in ensuring that pesticides are adequately monitored, studied and regulated,” Temkin said in an EWG news release. “Yet, the EPA continues to abdicate its responsibility to protect children from the potential health harms of toxic chemicals like chlormequat in food.”

More information

The EPA has more on chlormequat.

SOURCE: Environmental Working Group, news release, Feb. 15, 2024

Source: HealthDay

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