Professor Perry Raises Concerns about Pesticides

Earlier this month, EOH Department Chair Melissa Perry briefed members of the U.S. House of Representatives and their staffs on the risks to human health posed by the use of neonicotinoid pesticides, which have been linked to mysterious bee die-offs in recent years.  She also gave a keynote address overviewing her research into the human health impacts of pesticide exposure to farmers and other inhabitants of the Potomac River Valley, which includes Washington, D.C. 

The Milken Institute SPH lab that Perry directs investigates the endocrine-disrupting effects of pesticides, which researchers are finding can occur even at very low doses. 

The Congressional briefing where Perry spoke was titled The Threat of Neonicotinoid Pesticides to Bees and Other Organisms, and the Risks to Human Health.  It was co-sponsored by the EOH department and the Harvard School of Public Health’s Center for Health and the Global Environment. 

Neonicotinoids are a widely used class of insecticides that an emerging body of scientific evidence has linked to Bee Colony Collapse Disorder, a widespread die-off of honeybees over the past decade in the U.S., Europe, and other parts of the world.  The European Union has banned the three most commonly used neonicotinoid insecticides, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently announced that it would phase out the use of neonicotinoids across the U.S. National Wildlife Refuge System by 2016.

Perry argued that our nation’s pesticide regulatory and monitoring systems need to be strengthened to ensure safety from unanticipated consequences of human pesticide exposure.  “A problem exists in our regulatory system where we can approve a pesticide for market use, but we don’t have the anticipatory systems in place that can track unanticipated problems from the pesticide once it is in use,” she explained.

Intersex fish

In her keynote address at the Pesticides & the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Project's eighth annual meeting, Perry discussed the growing body of research which shows that exposure to very low doses of endocrine disrupting pesticides—including some widely used in agriculture and lawn care—can have long-term impacts, including metabolic and reproductive outcomes. 

For more than a decade, researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey have documented the presence in the Potomac River of “intersex” male fish with feminine characteristics.  Perry discussed the potential implications for local citizens and she explained why determining the cause presents a thorny challenge.  She also said that she feels it is important to investigate how widely used neonicotinoids are used in the Potomac River Valley, a key part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.