I see pesticide-people everywhere

There’s a scene in Neal Stephenson’s novel “Zodiac” where the hero is exposed to a PCB-filled lobster. His colleague becomes hysterical upon her exposure to such a nasty carcinogen, while the protagonist doesn’t care. Why? The colleage is a crunchy hippy who thinks her body is pristine, while the protagonist is a hard-drinking hard-drugging partier who figures he’s full of carcinogens anyway.

I’m not much of a drinker or drugger, but I am a confirmed carnivore. If my body is a temple, it’s a bit dirty in the corners and the roof probably leaks. So I wasn’t too shocked to read Mark Powell’s blogfish post on pesticides in Spain – a study at the University of Granada found that all 387 adults tested had some form of synthetic organic chemical in their body fat.

This is not at all surprising. Many pesticides (and insecticides) are known as Persistant Organic Pollutants (or POCs). POCs are generally fat-soluble, so once they’re in your body, they stay there. Sometimes women can get rid of them via breastfeeding – which of course passes the POC on to the baby. Most POCs are known carcinogens or mutagens or endrocrine mimics, so they’re not something you really want in your fat. Nonetheless, since vast amount of POCs such as DDT and the aforementioned PCBs have been released into the environment since WWII, everyone is bound to have some.

The interesting question not whether POCs are present – they certainly are, and the most toxic ones (DDT, PCBs) are banned from manufacture now anyway. What I want to know is what concentrations the Granada researchers found and how it correlates with lifestyle. People who eat unusually high up the food chain may already be suffering serious reproductive effects from PCBs, but what about people who live a more modern lifestyle? What about vegetarians?

Unfortunately, since this study isn’t in the peer reviewed literature, everything is pure speculation based on nothing more than this press release from the University of Granada itself. I hope the authors publish a real paper so that we can assess the risk for ourselves.

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