My week with the toxicologists by Paul Koch

Like many in the turf industry, I attend a lot of conferences. One of them I attend that I enjoy most is the Society of Toxicology (SOT) Annual Meeting. Despite the fact I minored in toxicology during my PhD and I belong to the Molecular and Environmental Toxicology Center here at the University of Wisconsin, I don’t really consider myself a toxicologist. But a lot of our research here at UW has a toxicological aspect to it and it’s an area that I feel is very important to the turfgrass industry so I make a point to attend SOT every year. Having just returned from this year’s show I made two main observations related to the turf industry:

1) The Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program (EDSP) is moving along slowly, which is a good thing. I wrote about the EDSP a year ago in a Turf Disease blog post, and this year there was a symposium providing updates about the EDSP and potential future changes that might occur. Because of how important the decisions that come out of the EDSP will be to the turf industry, I am happy to see that the EPA is moving deliberately and trying to obtain the most complete picture of how these chemicals interact with the endocrine system. In fact, despite the EDSP being around since 1998 and the first list of chemicals to be tested released in 2009, it doesn’t appear any decisions will be made on which ones will require increased restrictions for at least a couple more years. Most of this deliberate pace is due to the 12 or more tests that need to be conducted on each chemical, each of which can produce results that support or contradict results from other tests. One other note about the EDSP, currently it costs chemical companies about $1 million per chemical just to complete the initial (Tier I) EDSP analysis. The EPA recognizes this is unsustainable and is making efforts to speed up the process and bring the costs under control through development of high throughout tests and collaborations such as Tox21 (Toxicology in the 21st Century).

2) Pesticides are still ‘doing time’ for the 60’s. One of the SOT sessions I was most looking forward to attending was the impact of environmental factors (ie toxins) on Alzheimer’s disease. While most of the session focused on heavy metals like lead, there was one presentation that focused only on ‘pesticides’. I was disappointed, however, that the only pesticide the session focused on was DDT (which of course we all know was banned in the US in 1972). While the presenter certainly made a strong case that DDT (and its primary metabolites) in conjunction with genetic preconditioning can increase the rate of Alzheimer’s, it certainly would have been stronger yet if the chemical in question was currently being used. But when the public digests information like this, they don’t see ‘Product banned for 45 years causes Alzheimer’s disease’ they see ‘Pesticides cause Alzheimer’s disease.’ This ignores the fact that most pesticides used today have much lower risk associated with them than the ‘skull and crossbone’ pesticides that were awful for the environment and rightfully banned decades ago. These statements are then used to falsely incriminate all pesticides in recent efforts to restrict or ban pesticides on amenity turfgrass throughout much of Canada and in the northeastern US. Today’s pesticides should be judged based on their toxicological impact, not on the impact of pesticides from 50 years ago.