Another pesticide problem on your plate

By Carey Gillam

Highlighting a fresh health concern for US consumers, a new study has found that a farm chemical linked to reproductive problems is increasingly showing up in the urine of people across the United States.

The study, published in the Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology on Thursday, reported that the majority of a set of nearly 100 urine samples collected from people in different states over the last few years showed the presence of a pesticide called chlormequat, which is used in agriculture to control growth in plants.

Notably, the study found that both frequency of detection and concentrations of the chemical were starkly higher in 2023 than in samples collected from prior years.

“While the sample size is small and more research will be needed to verify the extent of the problem, it is very concerning to see chlormequat chloride showing up in these samples, and at increasing levels,” said Danielle Melgar, a specialist in food and agriculture advocacy work with the Public Interest Research Group.

“It means that consumers are clearly being exposed to it. If it wasn’t linked to health concerns, that might not be an issue, but independent research has established connections to fetal and reproductive health harms in animal studies,” Melgar said.

Chlormequat is used to regulate the size of plants by blocking certain hormones. Though primarily used on ornamental plants in the United States, it is allowed on imported foods from other countries, including from Canada and Europe where chlormequat is approved for use on wheat, oats and barley.

Last year, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed that farmers in this country also be allowed to apply it to their food crops. By regulating the growth of crops such as wheat, yields can be improved, farmers have found.

But animal studies show chlormequat exposure can disrupt embryonic growth and contribute to other health problems.

Environmental and health advocates cite those studies in strongly opposing any expansion of use. Last year, PIRG sent a petition to the EPA, arguing “a slightly bigger harvest isn’t worth the risk to our health.”