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June 25, 2004




Chemical Concern: Mothers in farm regions threatened by harmful pesticide


Research conducted on 30 women in three regions of Armenia found that 25 had traces of the chemical DDT in their systems.

Decades ago, Soviet health officials banned the use of DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane), a pesticide used to kill weeds and bugs in agriculture crops.

As in other countries, USSR scientists concluded that exposure to the powerful chemical could lead to birth defects, could promote the incidence of cancer, cause liver failure, effect the nervous system. Exposure was especially dangerous for pregnant women.

Tests were conducted on 30 mothers.

The research began last year and is now in its second phase, testing women in maternity homes of Ararat, Masis, and Aparan regions – farming districts where pesticides are used for treating vineyards and other crops.

“We examine 30 women from different regions in every stage of our research, however thousands of women have similar problems in Armenia,” says Albert Mayrapetyan, director of Scientific Research Institute on Environment, Hygiene and Preventive Toxicology at the Ministry of Health. “And if we’ve found those substances in mother’s milk, this already shows that those pesticides are put into use in the surrounding area. During the second stage of our research we will examine the negative affect of that milk on the health of the newborns.

“Considering the threat, prohibition during Soviet times was very strict and DDT was out of use right away. However, our latest research shows that it is still are a threat to people.”

“The existence of DDT in milk can lead to various negative consequences during the period of a child’s development, beginning with mental development damage up to nervous and immunity damage,” says Lilia Simonyan, representative of a non governmental organization that focuses on women’s health.

Simonyan says women become exposed to the chemical while working in gardens or fields where DDT has been applied.

And while the rate of incidence may seem alarming, Karine Saribekyan, head of Mother and Child Health Department at the Ministry of Health, says that research is not yet a reason to discourage mothers from breastfeeding.

“Mother’s milk is irreplaceable for a newborn and it’s not a wise thing to refuse from feeding babies in a natural way,” says Saribekyan. “Specialists have to start teaching villagers how to use pesticides wisely and to find out where DDT came from.”

There are different opinions regarding the reappearance of DDT, but there hasn’t been any specific conclusions about its renewed use.

The chairman of the Union of Greens Hakob Sanasaryan says the DDT was not destroyed after it was banned, but it was kept and after a while was again put into circulation.

According to Mayrapetyan DDT is being smuggled in from Azerbaijan and Middle Asia.

“Even though usage of DDT is prohibited, the import of pesticides is in general free for individual small owners and it’s impossible to have a complete control of this situation,” says the head of Plant Cultivation department at the Ministry of Agriculture, Gagik Manucharyan.

According to specialists, during Soviet years everything was systematized and experts oversaw the use of agricultural chemicals. Today, however, villagers have their own land and their means of farming is practically unregulated.

“We have been doing researches for five years in regions and carry out information campaigns on how and what quantities pesticides have to be used in,” says Simonyan. “The awareness level is not so high.”

Mayrapetyan says DDT in mother’s milk is not the only trace of pesticide misuse.

“As a result of our research we found out that in the region where a large quantity of pesticides is being applied, health problems are incomparably higher than for instance in mountainous regions where they use very little pesticides,” he says. “Now, another study is in process regarding the number of stillbirths, and anomalies in the ‘risk’ area and the preliminary picture is not encouraging at all.”


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