Spray report sparks cancer fears

GOVERNMENT HEALTH advisers have warned that pesticides, especially weed killers, may cause prostate cancer, reports the Guardian.

In a statement, the Department of Health‘s advisory committee on carcinogenicity has called for better monitoring of pesticide use, starting with the occupational exposure of farmers and farm workers to agricultural chemicals.

The paper reports that the Department of Health has been investigating possible reasons for the large rise in the number of prostate cancer cases over the past 20 years.

Farm work was the only occupation found to carry a potential link between pesticides and prostate cancer.

Experts on pesticide safety are to advise DEFRA on Thurs (Jan 13) of any necessary steps that should be taken in light of the report‘s conclusions.

But DEFRA officials have reportedly told the paper that it “would be extremely difficult to estimate exposure to the chemicals”.

Friends of the Earth, which has long campaigned for greater research into the possible health effects of pesticides, was encouraged by the news but said that more needed to be done.

“While workers wear protective clothing for spraying, those that lived near fields being treated, including children, did not,” said a spokesperson for the organization.

“There was far too little information on this risk too,” they added.

In a statement on its website, the advisory committee on carcinogenicity discounted large-scale environmental factors since a study of geographical incidence of prostate cancer in the UK found no significant differences.

But after studying a number of research papers, including some from the U.S. and Canada, the committee reported “there was some evidence to suggest an association between farmers and farm workers, that exposure to pesticides increased risk to prostate cancer”.

Although the report does not suggest the undertaking of any new research into the issue, it recommends the “potential association” should be kept under review.

The committee also commented on the need for improved measures of exposure to pesticides, and particularly herbicides.

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in men in Britain, with 27,000 new cases each year – a life-time risk of one in 13.