2. The researcher who discovered the poison in mothers' milk
3. Soy Monoculture Deeply Divides a City in Brazil
4. Rainforest Action Network Fact Sheet: Agribusiness in the Rainforest
NOTE: Here are three items about the consequences of an incident in 2006 in which people living in a soy monoculture region of Brazil were sprayed with agrochemicals. The story of the spraying incident is in items 3 and 4; item 1 gives an overview of research that is being conducted on the sprayed people and environment; item 2 is an interview with a researcher working on this project who found agrochemicals in the milk of breastfeeding mothers, sometimes at levels above the safety limits set for cows' milk. There are no safety limits set for mothers' milk.
Our thanks to Ralph Miller for the translations from Portuguese.
EXCERPT: Danielly Palma [the researcher who tested levels of agrochemicals in mothers' milk] We hope the municipal authorities and all the producing regions wake up from the development model they are adopting, as it is no use having a high Human Development Index, good education and health systems, if the quality of life, in terms of environmental exposure, is very bad.
1. Study identifies agrochemicals in samples of mothers' milk in Mato Grosso
Source: Gazeta do Povo, 24/03/2011
A study revealed that 62 samples of mothers' milk in the State of Mato Grosso were all contaminated with agrotoxic substances. The women who were breastfeeding are from the Lucas do Rio Verde county, with 45,000 inhabitants and one of the largest grain producers in the State. The mothers tested by the Mato Grosso Federal University have babies aged between two and eight weeks.
Six substances were found in the samples of mothers' milk. One of these has been forbidden in Brazil for ten years. Professor Wanderlei Antonio Pignati, who is coordinating the study, says there is no legislation that establishes limits for agrochemicals in mothers' milk, only for cows' milk. The study revealed that some of the residues were above the limit allowed, even for cows' milk.
In 2009, 140 ha of corn and soy were planted and 5.62 million liters of agrochemicals were used. The National Association for Vegetable Defence, that unites users and manufacturers of agrochemicals, stated that the products are strictly appraised by the authorities before being sold.
2. The researcher who discovered the poison in mothers' milk
Viomundo (Brazil), Mar 26, 2011
[SLIGHTLY EDITED FOR LENGTH]
The reporter Manuela Azenha was in CuiabÃ¡, Mato Grosso, where she attended the defence of the thesis of the researcher Danielly Palma. She was responsible for the study of the impact of agrochemicals on mothers who were breastfeeding, in the city of Lucas do Rio Verde.
The report follows:
Lucas do Rio Verde is one of the largest producers of grain in Mato Grosso, Brazil's showcase agribusiness state. There, in a year, a resident is exposed to approximately 135 liters of agrochemicals, nearly 45 times the national average of 3.35 liters.
Since 2006, the year in which an accident occurred during airplane spraying that contaminated the whole city, Lucas do Rio Verde has been part of a project coordinated by the physician and toxicologist Wanderlei Pignatti, in association with [scientific research institute] Fiocruz. The investigation assessed the agrochemicals residues in samples of rainwater, artesian wells, the blood of humans and amphibians, as well as mothers' milk from 62 women. The work on mothers' milk fell to the master's degree student Danielly Palma of the Mato Grosso Federal University.
The investigation revealed that 100% of the milk samples showed contamination with at least one agrochemical. In all mothers were found residues of DDE, a metabolite of DDT, a pesticide that has been banned in Brazil for over ten years. Of the residues found, the majority are organochlorines, which are of high toxicity, dispersability and persistence in the environment as well as in the human body.
The day following the defence of her thesis, Danielly gave Viomundo an interview.
Viomundo Is your investigation part of a larger project?
Danielly Palma My investigation is a sub-project of an appraisal made in Lucas do Rio Verde and I was responsible for investigating the level in mothers' milk. However the larger project analyzed air, rain water, sediments, artesian well and surface waters, human blood and urine, and some epidemiological data regarding amphibian malformation.
Viomundo When and why did the investigation begin?
Danielly Palma We began in 2007. My part began last year, from February to June. Lucas do Rio Verde was chosen because it's a large Mato Grosso county, producing soya as well as corn, and one of the largest consumers of agrochemicals. In 2006, when there was an accident with one of these spraying planes, in the viscinity of Lucas, professor Pignati, who was regional project coordinator, was called to make a local investigation together with other Mato Grosso Federal University professors. They began making contact with people and saw the necessity of preparing a project, to find out at what level the environment and population of Lucas had been contaminated.
Viomundo And at what level of contamination does Lucas's population find itself today? What does your investigation show?
Danielly Palma Regarding mothers' milk, 100% of the samples show contamination with at least one type of substance. DDE, a metabolite of DDT, that has not been used since 1998, when it was forbidden, was present in 100% of samples. But 44% of the samples showed beta-endosulfan, which is still used today. It has been withdrawn but is being phased out up to 2013 when it will be definitely forbidden. This is worrying, as it is an organochlorine that is still being used and is found in mothers' milk.
Viomundo Were these the only two substances found?
Danielly Palma No, there are more. DDE was in 100% of the mothers [who are breastfeeding], beta-endosulfan in 44%, deltamethrin, a pyrethroid, in 37%; aldrin in 32%, alpha-endosulfan, which is an isomer of endosulfan, in 32%; alpha-HCH in 18% of mothers' milk and DDT in 13%; trifularin, a herbicide, in 11%; lindane in 6%.
”¨Viomundo And what effects can these substances cause in the human body?
Danielly Palma All can potentially cause fetal malformation, induce abortion and disrupt the endocrine system the system that regulates the body's hormones. Therefore they can cause several disturbances. They can also cause cancer. These are the worst pdoblems.
Viomundo You said that the mothers were exposed over ten years ago. Do the substances remain in the body for a long time?
Danielly Palma They do. Endosulfan is the only one still being used. Since 1998 organochlorines have been forbidden, but the investigation was made in 2010; we found levels that can be considered high. Even if it was an exposure in the past, the substances remain for a long time in the body, so the symptoms may appear over the long term.
Viomundo During your master's defence, in which this thesis was shown, the examiners pointed out how much you suffered to make this investigation. What were the main difficulties?
Danielly Palma My greatest difficulty was to validate the method, because when one studies agrochemicals one has to be very precise. As there are ten substances with different characteristics, when I had finished validating one, this was not adequate for the others. Therefore, to obtain a method sufficiently precise for all the substances, hard work, a lot of willpower, and time were necessary. It took practically one year to validate the method.
Viomundo Does contamination occur through the air, through food?
Danielly Palma - Food is one of the main means of contamination, but as they are organochlorines, whose use has been forbidden, I can say that exposure takes place from the environment, because they also accumulate in the environment.
”¨Viomundo What are the main properties of these substances?
Danielly Palma They have the property of accumulating in fat and high pressure steam [?] and their half life is long; therefore, they take a long time to degrade. They are highly persistent in the environment, as well as in sediments, soil and the human body, the also have the ability to disperse widely. Even in the Arctic, where they were never applied, organochlorine residues are found.
Viomundo Professor Pignati commented that the Health Secretary created some difficulties in your studies, but you made a point of the government's participation. Why?
Danielly Palma We saw the importance of their participation when the exposure of people is at a high level and is having a greater impact of certain illnesses, it is there at the end that things will explode, in the PSF (Programme for Family Health). Therefore we wanted the Health Secretary to follow the work to see at what level these people were exposed to and to take measures. So that they receive these people who have a problem and know how to diagnose, know where it's coming from, and why so many illnesses occur in the municipality.”¨
Viomundo How can agrochemicals affect babies?
Danielly Palma These agrochemicals accumulate in the body fats, remain in the organism and pass to the mother's blood and through the placenta, as there is an exchange between mother and the fetus, and during breastfeeding the agrochemicals end up in human milk.
Viomundo Does this mean the even if the mother is not breastfeeding the child, it may be born with agrochemical residues?
Danielly Palma Yes, if the mother's contamination is very high.
Viomundo Was this the case of the mothers (studied) in Lucas do Rio Verde?
Danielly Palma We considered some of the levels found high, considering that human milk ought to be free of all these substances. It should be the purest food on earth, and one sees this is not the case. My results as well as other studies conducted internationally, confirmed this contamination.
Viomundo What are the risks involved in this contamination?
”¨”¨Danielly Palma The risks we'll only know after a long term monitoring of these children. What can happen are development of cognitive problems, depending on the [toxic] load the baby received from pregnancy, that can only be perceived later.
Viomundo Has this monitoring of the agrochemicals' effect on the human body already been done or is it still something to be made?
Danielly Palma With respect to the endocrine system there is evidence. Studies confirming this interference of agrochemicals exist. Regarding cancer, malformation, and anomalies and malformations linked to a disorder of the fetal development, studies made with animals point towards a possible influence of agrochemicals. But you cannot test for a single substance in humans. When you do research, more than one substance is always found in the body and therefore it is not known whether it is a cumulative action of these substances that created that effect or whether it was the action of a single substance.
Viomundo Are the results of this study alarming?
Danielly Palma They were alarming, but at the same time we were already expecting this result, because we had already, in hand, the result of the environmental part. We saw that the population's exposure was much higher. With such a contaminated environment, contamination of mothers' milk was to be expected as the environment influences human contamination as well.”¨”¨
Viomundo What is going to be done with these results?”¨”¨
Danielly Palma The results have already been forwarded to the mothers. At the beginning of the project we committed ourselves to meet with them at the end to explain the results. We hope the municipal authorities and all the producing regions wake up from the development model they are adopting, as it is no use having a high Human Development Index, good education and health systems, if the quality of life, in terms of environmental exposure, is very bad.
3. Soy Monoculture Deeply Divides a City in Brazil
18 April 2006
The municipality of Lucas do Rio Verde, located 280 kilometers north of the Mato Grosso state capital, Cuiab, has a complete urban infrastructure, even though it has existed as a separate municipality for only 16 years.
It currently profits from the monocultural production of soybeans, which have transformed it into the second largest producer of grains in Brazil.
Nevertheless, after an environmental disaster in March, when the city was sprayed with pesticides, the agribusiness environmental model divides opinions among large landowners, the mayor, and small farmers.
Lucas do Rio Verde has 25,000 inhabitants and one of the highest demographic growth rates in the country. Its population is growing around 12% annually.
Although the United Nations (UN) considers it the third best municipality in which to live in the state, small farmers criticize the soybean monoculture model, because it tends to concentrate income.
"This is a model that cannot be sustained in the long run. When the price of soybeans was US$ 21.42 (45 reais) a sack, as it was in 2004, the crop advanced upon the Amazon, cutting down the forest and concentrating landholding even more. The landowners said that agribusiness was the solution for Brazil.
"Now, with the soy price at US$ 7.14 (15 reais), they are wailing and want the nation to foot the bill, by having the government defer their debts," affirms the president of the Lucas do Rio Verde Truck Farmers' Association, Celito Trevisan.
The Radiobras reporting crew tried to contact three large soybean producers in the region to get their comments on the use of pesticide sprays and the regional development model, but none of them wanted to be interviewed.
The local mayor, Marino Jos Franz, affirms that his administration is dedicated to "making changes" in the current model. In his view, what is needed is to deepen agribusiness even more.
The solution for the dependency of the local economy, according to Franz, lies in the "verticalization" of production. That is, instead of the exporting soybeans, corn, and rice from the municipality, he wants to attract industries that transform these grains into oil, animal feed, and other derived products, adding value to what is produced.
That is also why Franz laments that the municipality is still experiencing problems in getting its products to market, since the only means of access is the BR-163 highway, which links Cuiab to Santarm (PA). The highway is in bad shape.
He indicates the solution on a map published by the city government. "Our way out is by rail. A spur of the North-South railway could transport our products to the Port of Itaqui in Maranho," the mayor insists.
As a soybean exporter himself, he argues that if the municipality is able to resolve the logistics problem, the industries he wants will set up factories in town.
The president of the Lucas do Rio Verde Rural Workers' Syndicate, Nilffo Vandcheer, on the other hand, claims that the solution lies in the diversification of production in the municipality and the strengthening of family farming and the cultivation of organic products.
In his view, agribusiness creates few jobs, concentrates income in the hands of large landowners, and ravages the environment through the intensive application of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and heavy equipment that compacts the soil, preventing water from filtering down and causing erosion.
"Agribusiness has already destroyed the municipality's forests, has eliminated the diversity of plant and animal species in the region, has contaminated the rivers and lakes, and is presently even jeopardizing the health and quality of life of the residents," he commented, referring to the use of pesticide sprays. (Paulo Machado)
4. Fact sheet: Agribusiness in the Rainforest
Rainforest Action Network
Cargill, Bunge and ADM silos surround the community of Lucas do Rio Verde in the state of Mato Grosso, Brazil. Soy plantations have steadily taken over the surrounding landscape over the past two decades, and the municipality is the second-largest producer of grains in Brazil. In March 2006, thousands of community members fell ill when a small, single-engine plane aerially sprayed herbicide over soybean fields. The wind dispersed the herbicide over the entire city. Domestic gardens, fruit trees, ornamental plants, a community medicinal plant garden, and crops belonging to small-scale farmers were destroyed. Local people experienced diarrhea, vomiting and skin rashes. Lindonesia Andrade, a biologist in charge of the medicinal garden, said that the toxic effects appeared very quickly. The day after the spraying, the damage was visible throughout the city. "Leaves looked like crushed and burned paper, while others turned full of holes, and necrosis [rot] began to set in around the holes.
On the fourth day, the leaves entered total necrosis and started to fall," she said.