Pesticides and Human Health
In 2014/2015, the Chief Public Health Office reviewed research conducted between 2004-2015 on the topic of pesticides and human health. The following questions and answers summarize the study’s purpose, methods, results and conclusions.
1. What was the purpose of the study?
The purpose of the study was to review the scientific evidence regarding pesticide use and human health. Two questions were asked: Part 1: What human health conditions have been most commonly and/or strongly associated with pesticides in research studies? Part2: Given the health conditions identified in Part 1, what percentage of PEI illness could be attributed to pesticide use?
2. Why did we do the study?
The public has posed questions about the potential for health risks associated with pesticide use in PEI. Part of the Chief Public Health Office’s mandate is to protect the health of Islanders through ongoing monitoring of research regarding environmental health risks including pesticide use. This study falls within the mandate of the Chief Public Health Office.
3. Who performed the study?
The study was led by Dr. Carolyn Sanford, Provincial Epidemiologist and Manager of Population Health Assessment and Surveillance, in consultation with Dr. David Sabapathy, Deputy Chief Public Health Officer and Dr. Heather Morrison, Chief Public Health Officer. Additional epidemiological support was provided by Katherine Gaudreau, independent contractor.
4. What literature was reviewed in the study?
We reviewed studies published between 2004-2015 from North America, Europe and Japan. The research included meta-analyses, reviews, case-control and cohort studies as well as cross sectional and descriptive studies.
5. What pesticides were included in the study?
For Part 1, all pesticides were included in the research review. A complete list is found in the study’s Appendix. Part 2 of the study focused solely on pesticides that are sold in Prince Edward Island.
6. What human health conditions were examined in the study?
The study examined reproductive (e.g. cleft palate), neurological (e.g. Parkinson's Disease), neurodevelopmental (e.g. Pervasive Developmental Disorder), oncologic (e.g. leukemia), respiratory (e.g. asthma), endocrine (e.g. diabetes) and other health conditions (e.g. hearing loss).
7. What did the study tell us?
The most common health conditions associated with pesticide use in North America, Europe and Japan are cancers of the blood, bone marrow and lymphatic system. Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma is the most common health condition associated with pesticide use.
PEI’s rates of disease are similar to Canadian rates for all health conditions examined in this study, including cancers of the blood, bone marrow and lymphatic system.
Pesticides sold in PEI were not associated with the four most common cancers in PEI: lung, breast, colorectal and prostate cancer.
Eliminating the use of all pesticides in PEI would have little or no impact on Island disease rates, including cancer rates. For example: o Annual new cases of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma would be decreased by 1.7% (less than 1 case) for males and 0.4% (less than 1 case) for females.
By comparison, if all smoking in PEI ceased, annual new cases of Lung Cancer would be decreased by 82% (98 cases) for males and 55% (37 cases) for females.
8. What does this mean for the health of Islanders?
This study indicates that pesticides used in PEI do not pose a significant public health risk when used according to Health Canada’s usage and safety precaution labelling. The Chief Public Health Office will continue to monitor ongoing research in this area.