6 April 2000
New OP guidelines ‘out of date’

By FWi staff

A NEW version of controversial guidelines on the use of organophosphate (OP) pesticides has been branded out-of-date days just days after it was published.

The Health and Safety Executive has issued a revised version of its MS17 leaflet – now entitled Medical Aspects of Work Related Exposures to OPs.

First published in 1981, the leaflet warned readers that acute exposure to OPs can produce harmful effects in humans.

Repeated exposure at smaller doses may cause insidious cumulative toxicity.

Opponents of OPs said that, in the past, MS17 was never widely circulated and consequently few doctors had adequate information to diagnose patients properly.

Hundreds of sheep dippers blame OP sheep dip for symptoms which include nausea, chest tightness, anxiety and depression.

The revised MS17 was released shortly after new evidence was heard at a Ministry of Agriculture OPs workshop.

OP opponent Elizabeth Sigmund of the OP Information Network says the new document cannot claim to be comprehensive if it has not considered this data.

“It cant be a complete resume or even claim to comment on what is up-to-date because new evidence presented at the MAFF workshop will not be included.”

Mrs Sigmund is also concerned that new guidelines take close account of last years report by the governments advisory committee on toxicity of chemicals.

The report found convincing evidence that acute exposure to high OP doses caused long-term nerve damage, but no evidence that low OP doses cause illness.

Anti-OP campaigners cast doubt on the findings because it mainly tested workers, which would exclude those unfit to work due to low level OP exposure.

The report was at odds with a study for MAFF by the Institute of Occupational Medicine (IOM) also published last year.

The institute concluded that ill-health in some sheep dippers was due to low-level exposure to OPs and recommended that this be minimised or eliminated.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said the report paid particular attention to the insitututes report, including its conclusions.

But Mrs Sigmund said the Committee on Toxicology disagreed.

She said: “They can pick the report which they believe fits best. Its sad that the IOM report has not been given more prominence.”

Mrs Sigmund claims that at least 22 children have suffered severe cognitive impairment which she attributes to OP contact.

The contact could have been either direct or by genetic transmission, and she believes the issue should have been covered in MS17.

The HSE said it was inappropriate to include direct reference to non-occupational groups such but much of the medical advice is equally applicable.

In the past MS17 was publicised by press notices to specialist publications, and has been extensively referred to in HSE guidance to health professionals.

The HSE claimed that the HSE has done a great deal to advise farmers on the safe use of sheep dips.

However, it adds that for the revised publication “we will be making a further effort in respect of the medical profession”.

OP sheep dips were withdrawn earlier this year until safer packaging can be designed.