Malathion Linked To Cancer?

The pesticide malathion, which the city sprayed over Queens and elsewhere last summer to battle disease-carrying mosquitoes, might cause cancer, a federal study has indicated.
Congressman Gary Ackerman disclosed last week that preliminary federal studies on malathion show it to be a "low level human carcinogen."
He lashed out at city officials for what he called their suppressing of negative studies on the pesticide, which were to be reported in a widely-read federal health journal. The accusations came at a stormy public hearing at the Flushing Library on the citys controversial handling of last summers outbreak of encephalitis.
The Bayside Democrat had assembled a bi-partisan panel of legislators who questioned officials of the city Health Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, State Attorney Generals Office, medical authorities and consumers who complained of illness caused by the 1999 West Nile Virus episode.
Ackerman, who charged that the citys Office of Emergency Management "has been stonewalling me for months," bristled at health officials. He quizzed Dr. Adrian Enache, manager of pesticide programs at the EPA, about preliminary reports that the pesticide sprayed last summer from helicopters and trucks was a carcinogen.
The Congressman distributed a letter from Harold T. Smith, senior project leader of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, revealing the possible cancer link with malathion.
Enache refused to confirm the report and said, "We will have to wait until May when the EPAs findings are confirmed."
The letter from Smith suggesting the cancer link was sent to Dr. Robert K. Simon, a Virginia toxicologist, who has testified at City Council hearings that malathion is a high-risk pesticide responsible for a range of illnesses. The products symptoms listed in the Merck Manual, a popular medical textbook, are covered in the works section on poisons.
The listed effects on humans by malathion include nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramping, headache, blurred vision, slurred speech, mental confusion, breathing difficulty, frothing at the mouth and coma.
The hearing was conducted by Ackerman; State Senator Frank Padavan, a Bellerose Republican; City Councilman Mike Abel, a Bayside Republican; Assemblywoman Ann Carrozza, a Bayside Democrat; and Congressman Joseph Crowley, a Jackson Heights Democrat.
The legislators were convened to rate the governments performance in quelling last summers outbreak of encephalitis and assess plans for any re-occurrence this year.
Dr. Adrian Buffalo, medical director of Health Care for the 21st Century, a Manhattan health-care facility, testified that the city overreacted and used unsafe pesticides in the spraying campaign. "Malathion is dangerous and poisonous," he said, noting a handbook on the city prepared for the Mayors office and fire and police departments and the Mayors Office of Emergency Management.
Ackerman clashed with two city Health Department officials, Dr. Marcelle Layton, assistant commissioner for communicable diseases, and Dr. James Miller, director of parasitic disease surveillance.
He grilled the two officials about the alleged suppression of a report on the dangerous effects of malathion in the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions weekly Morbidity and Mortality publication.
"Who pulled the report in this journal?" Ackerman asked.
Both health officials denied any knowledge of the incident.
Ackerman indicated he was seeking details in a Freedom of Information query filed with the government.
The Congressman alleged that the report "was pulled" because a second article favorable to malathion was scheduled to appear in the same issue.
The panelists also challenged safety claims for malathion an action that an aide to Attorney General Eliot Spitzer said was in violation of federal and state regulations since it carries a warning label.
Miller said health officials had been careful to point out the side effects of the pesticide.
In rebuttal, Ackerman showed a television news tape of officials claiming the product was safe.
Crowley, who recently called for a federal czar to monitor the West Nile Virus, said that for 40 years asbestos was seen as harmless until it was shown to be dangerous. He said that malathion had similarly been misinterpreted.
City health officials outlined plans for preventing another outbreak of encephalitis and revealed they were actively seeking hibernating mosquitoes.
Miller said that Fort Totten and the Flushing Airport were thoroughly investigated by the city Health Department. "At Fort Totten we vacuumed out more than 2,000 mosquitoes that were positive for West Nile Virus," he said.
Miller said plans call for draining water from Flushing Airport to rid breeding areas for mosquitoes. He also plans to use larvacide to destroy the disease-carrying insects.
The city official said only 200 calls were received on the departments hot line from individuals who said they were made ill by the pesticide.
However, it was pointed out that the citys Poison Control Center had received 150,000 calls.
The EPA official, Dr. Enache, added some levity to the proceedings when he displayed a board game called, "Mosquitoes," designed to educate youngsters about the insects.