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Back To Vidyya EPA Gives Pesticide A Green Light

Malathion Safe And Effective If Used Properly

A federal review of the health effects of malathion, released 12-May-2000, says the insecticide sprayed around New York City and many other cities, to kill disease-carrying mosquitoes, contains "suggestive evidence" that high doses of the chemical may cause cancer in laboratory animals. There is no current evidence that it poses a threat to people when used properly.

The Environmental Protection Agency, in more than 1,000 pages of preliminary analysis of malathion posted on its Web site at, found no evidence that would indicate a need for tighter restrictions on the chemical, which is widely used in agriculture, consumer backyard products and mosquito control.

In particular, the agency concluded that when malathion is sprayed in the very low concentrations that are used to kill mosquitoes, there is no health threat to people. The agency did conclude that an independent scientific advisory panel should take a closer look at studies in laboratory mice and rats hinting that malathion might cause some kinds of tumors when consumed in high doses, but the report also noted that malathion is rarely encountered in concentrations beyond a trace.

In some city neighborhoods, the spraying operation last year caused more public concern than the West Nile virus, the disease it was aimed at eliminating. The virus, which is transmitted by some mosquitoes, can in rare instances cause deadly encephalitis, a swelling of the brain.

Last year, seven people died of West Nile encephalitis in and around New York City, and 60 others developed serious infections. There was no documented rise in health problems from the spraying.

"No pesticide is 100 percent safe, and they have to be used in accordance with labeled directions," said Stephen L. Johnson, a deputy assistant E.P.A. administrator who is in charge of the agency's pesticide program. "But," Mr. Johnson added, "we have concluded that we don't have any level of concern with regard to food or drinking water or the use of malathion in a program to control mosquitoes, boll weevils or medflies."

As is normal procedure, the E.P.A. is accepting public comments on its findings for 60 days, then will issue a revised report and take public comments once again before publishing its final conclusions.

Malathion is one of 43 organophosphate pesticides approved for use in the United States. These chemicals, related to nerve gas, kill insects by disrupting the action of their nerve cells. Some, including malathion, have been known to cause neurological problems in people in high doses.

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Editor: Susan K. Boyer, RN
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