The Utah Legislature intends to evict the natural inhabitants of Salt Lake’s Northwest Quadrant, wildlife and mosquitoes, to make way for a massive inland port. Promise of an economic bonanza is merely a mirage, while the promise of more air pollution is all too real. But the threat of more environmental toxins doesn’t end there.
We became alarmed to learn that the Salt Lake City Mosquito Abatement District (SLCMAD) has already been conducting aerial spraying of pesticides in the area. But now, acknowledging even that is not working, it wants to ramp up spraying by enlisting the U.S. Air Force. Ignoring the many reasons spraying fails, such as mosquitoes developing pesticide resistance, SLCMAD is launching a chemical arms race. The district is ignoring the extensive medical research on the human health consequences of these biologic poisons.
In 2014, experts warned that low dose exposure to a long list of industrial chemicals had precipitated a global, “silent pandemic” of impaired brain development affecting children. One out of every six children in the United States now has a brain developmental disorder. Rates of autism have continued their alarming rise, affecting one out of every 34 boys in the U.S. Utah has one of the highest rates in the nation.
Pesticides dominate the list of chemical villains, their overuse has left our air, water, food and soil widely contaminated. They have infiltrated the blood, tissue and organs of almost every person on the planet. An exposure to a pregnant mother exposes her baby as well because pesticides pass through the placenta and enter the fetal circulation. We should all be repulsed that on day one they are already contaminating newborns and their mother’s breast milk.
SLCMAD ignores that numerous medical organizations have called for a sharp reduction in the use and production of insecticides because they attack the nervous system of humans just like those of mosquitoes. A nerve cell in the brain of a fetus is just as vulnerable and just as important to a human fetus as it is to a mosquito. Both can be damaged by the same chemicals, like those SLCMAD wants Air Force helicopters to spray all over the Northwest Quadrant.
The vulnerability of fetuses is further implied by experiments showing toxicity to small invertebrates at concentrations barely measurable, as little as two parts per trillion. The harmful effects are not just theoretical, not limited to lab animals, and not exclusive to intra-uterine development. The risk continues with infants and children because they have immature anatomical and immune protection, less capability to neutralize toxins, and their brains are still developing.
Clinically, real-life pesticide exposure is associated with practically the full spectrum of brain disorders in children and adults, including higher rates of autism, permanent loss of intellect, learning disabilities, behavioral disorders, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Most pesticides can interfere with human reproduction and can cause birth defects, pregnancy complications, and several types of cancer. Many studies show the magnitude of brain damage from pesticides is quantitatively similar to that from lead exposure.
The assumption that these chemicals are safe invokes their default approval by the EPA. The EPA has a long history of siding with industry and dismissing calls from scientists and medical organizations for stricter regulation and the banning of environmental toxins. For example, the EPA has approved 85 pesticides that have been banned or are being phased out in other countries.
The assumption that west side neighborhoods are far enough away to avoid clinically relevant exposure is contradicted by numerous studies, like those that show children growing up near agricultural pesticide use have higher rates of autism. Quoting the Scientific American, “pesticide drift is an insidious threat to human health as well as to wildlife and ecosystems in and around agricultural and even residential areas.”
Environmental threats that concentrate on the west side already invoke a steep human cost born by the 270,000 people who live there, especially their children. With several hazardous industrial facilities, highway pollution and a new massive source of pollution from the inland port, having the Air Force called in for mosquito abatement by spreading poisonous chemicals from the skies over our neighborhoods, feels like the last straw.
It is more evidence of “unabated” environmental injustice and moral failure emanating from Capitol Hill.
Brian Moench, M.D., Salt Lake City, is president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment.
Richard Holman, Salt Lake City, is chair of the board of directors of the Westside Coalition.