Applied Trophology, Vol. 11, No. 11
(November 1967)

Biological Poisons

Contents in in this issue:

  • “Our Biological Poisons, Part I.”

The following is a transcription of the November 1967 issue of Dr. Royal Lee’s Applied Trophology newsletter, originally published by Standard Process Laboratories.


Our Biological Poisons

It is becoming more apparent daily that the pesticide war between our agricultural scientists and crop-infesting insects is still far from won. These insects, aided by the dynamic forces of nature, seem to have regrouped with much more resistance. This, despite the millions of dollars being spent by manufacturing chemists to promote stronger and stronger pesticides. Resistance of insects to insecticides is a mounting problem throughout the world. Much of the past gains made by entomologists in their study of attractants, insect sex life, chemosterilants, destruction by enzyme antagonists, antifeeding compounds and natural predators has been lost because of the all-out switch to chemical warfare.

Dr. A.D. Pickett of Nova Scotia, a pioneer in insect control, said, “Economic entomologists must realize that they are dealing with living things—their work must be more than simply insecticide testing or a quest for highly destructive chemicals.”

Another Canadian entomologist, G.C. Ullyett, stated, “We must change our philosophy, abandon our attitude of human superiority, and admit that in many cases, in natural environments we find ways and means of limiting populations or organisms in a more economical way than we can do it ourselves.”

Sprays a Hazard

Through wind drift and water pollution DDT was recently found in the body fat of penguins in Antarctica and in reindeer and seals in the Arctic region. Its use has become almost universal. Results have been meagre, and in spite of a disregard of expense, the insects remain largely uncontrolled. Scientists tell us that flies, mosquitos, and other insects involved in vector- borne diseases as well as crop-destroying insects, breeding in areas subjected to DDT and other sprays, raise many broods of young in a single season, with each new brood becoming more resistant. They find that in approximately four years the insecticide becomes useless for the original purpose. However, the residues continue to upset the ecological balance.

Predatory animals, birds, fish, and reptiles do not multiply as fast as insects, so the loss-ratio of our natural protectors is proportionately higher. Conservationists tell us that most fish and game have a normal life of about five years. Also, that the half-life of DDT is about twenty years with a probable loss of strength for another twenty years.

Warnings of Danger

The continual destruction of bees and birds through the all-out use of insecticides should warn us of their hazardous effects. Arizona, once ranked as the seventh-place state in honey production, has barely enough bees left to pollinate various crops. Growers are trying to lease colonies of bees for pollination purposes. The situation daily becomes more acute as other pollinating insects are also being poisoned. Beekeepers are being forced out of business throughout the United States.

Pesticide advocates claim that pesticides are necessary to raise larger crops for more people. Common sense tells us that without proper pollination we will have smaller crops for fewer people. Legislation is being urged for better pesticide regulation to save the bees for their dual purpose of pollination and honey production. The diminishing population of birds in treated areas is also a danger signal. Little time is left to save some species of wild life. Birds of prey such as the peregrine, bald eagle, golden eagle, kite, and osprey are on the verge of extinction. Scientists presume that it would take about one hundred years for birds to build up a resistance to these poison chemicals. Accordingly, humans with one brood per year or three generations per century would require thousands of years to become immune to these same biological poisons.

An example of the havoc rendered was recently reported by scientists George Woodwell, Peter Isaacson, and Charles Wurster Jr., of the Brookhaven National Laboratory. They claim that birds and fish found along the south shore of Long Island have in their bodies concentrations of DDT nearly sufficient to kill them. After twenty years of spraying this area, cumulation tests have shown DDT residuals as high as thirty-two pounds per acre. Experts claim that beneficial soil inhabitants are destroyed at a very much lower concentration. The Brookhaven scientists further state, “Observations from widely scattered fish and bird populations in North America show concentrations approximating those reported here,” so they are not unique or confined to any one area.

In Britain, in 1963, an analysis of 333 bodies of birds examined showed 303 contained quantities of chlorinated hydrocarbon pesticides. Those most commonly found were aldrin, dieldrin, DDE, and DDT. Birds most affected were those which feed in flowing or standing water such as the great crested grebes and herons. In the Great Lakes region, a study of herring gulls in the Lake Michigan area shows gulls have greatly decreased in number, which could possibly be a factor in the increase of alewife and the problems they cause. Pesticides also seem to be reducing the reproduction rate of gulls, according to J.P. Ludwig, an investigator for the Audubon Society. He claims, “The outlook for the species is not very good.”

Smaller birds such as blackbirds, thrushes, and other songsters daily consume a diet of insects, worms, and seeds in an amount equal to their own bodyweight. It is easy to understand that entomologists feel that DDT is probably limiting the population of many species and apparently having “far-reaching and little-known effects on ecological systems.”

Enzyme Interference

Most insecticides, including fumigants, are chemically recreative and biologically poisonous. Traces of insecticides applied to infested food stuffs are inevitably absorbed, and some is usually retained by the food. For this reason, individual tolerance levels of pesticide residue have been established by the FDA for various food stuffs. For instance, the list includes, 46 toxic chemicals used on grapes, such as Parathion 1.0 ppm, DOT 7.0 ppm, fluorine compounds 7.0 ppm, Malation 8.0 ppm, and Captan 100.0 ppm. However, inasmuch as there are few controls restricting the use of pesticides in agriculture, a higher cumulation may force a higher tolerance. This recently happened with milk fat. The previous legal limit of 1.25 ppm of combined DDT, DDD, and DDE in milk fat has now been raised to 1.50 ppm.

At a recent meeting Dr. James Goddard, Director of the FDA, advised that food additives and pesticides were not adequately tested for humans before they are marketed. Animal studies, on which food chemical safety studies rely, are studies not as effective as in humans. As a result, he stated, “There is little chance that standards of food purity will be as strictly regulated as drugs in the future.”

These poisons are known to interfere with essential links in the chain of vital processes of metabolism. In fact, scientists of the World Health Organization (WHO) of the United Nations recently observed, “For too long diagnosticians have not considered the importance of cellular nutrition and metabolism in diseases and/or dysfunctions of the human body.” Although cell permeability may be affected, it is reasonably certain that the effects of insecticides are exerted through enzyme interference; however, in some instances, the particular enzyme system involved has not yet been identified.

Enzyme interference was demonstrated with organophosphates, (used in spraying infested crops) as early as January 1952 by Metcalf and March. They reported in Endeavor, Vol. II, No. 41, that the enzyme acetylcholinesterase was inhibited, thereby causing a close relationship between the toxic action and the degree of inhibition of preparations of this enzyme from honey bees, house flies, and mice. Cholinesterase, by a process of hydrolysis, controls tissue acetylcholine and prevents its accumulation at nerve endings and thus plays an important role in the chemical transmission of nerve impulses. Any inhibition of acetylcholinesterase could allow the acetylcholine to accumulate in excess of the natural tissue levels of concentration and act as a powerful poison.

Since that time pesticide enzyme interference and its effects have become more common, although generally not too well recognized. However, in a recent eight-county survey of farmers using pesticides in southeastern Michigan, the researchers determined that a good share of them absorbed an excessive amount of organic phosphate insecticides through the skin. As a result of the absorption, blood enzyme levels of cholinesterase were lowered, causing headaches, difficult breathing, loss of balance, and some muscular stiffness. According to Dr. George Pickett, Director of the Wayne County Health Department, 31 of the 150 farmers tested had a low level of cholinesterase.

Biological Effects

Early in 1966 Dr. J.P. Marliac, a scientist of the FDA, reported that organophosphate insecticides had caused birth defects in chicken embryos. Hydrocarbon pesticides such as DDT, Lindane, and Dieldrin have been found in eggs. In a recent test by the Florida Department of Agriculture, 30 percent of the eggs sampled were contaminated. Researchers ruled out food sources. The supposedly “safe” poultry-delousing powders (organophosphates or carbamates) used externally to control chicken lice, mites, etc., were found to be contaminated with the chlorinated hydrocarbon pesticides during the formulation process when manufactured. Apparently, the eggs absorbed the hydrocarbons through the shell. As a result, the state of Florida has set a maximum of 100.0 ppm as the level for chlorinated contaminates in the “safe” poultry pesticides.

In a recent court case in Michigan, scientists of the Environmental Defense Fund Inc., a national environmental protective group, cited evidence that Dieldrin and DDT are broad spectrum nonspecific persistent chemical biocides. Also, that the two compounds persist in the “environment and its components biological systems for years.”

Ecological Magnification

Biologists are worried regarding “ecological magnification.” It has now become known that a creature can accumulate a higher concentration of DDT, DDE, or DDD within itself than exists in its external surroundings. A recently cited example occurred at Clear Lake in California. DDD was sprayed about the lake to kill some gnats. In a test thirteen months later, microscopically tiny plants known as plankton had 500 times the DDD concentration of the host water in the lake. Fish that ate the plankton had higher concentrations, and the fish that ate these fish had still greater concentrations. Birds that ate the larger fish died. Their fat contained concentrations of DDD 100,000 times greater than in the water.

It is quite apparent that we, as human creatures and consumers of fish, birds and other foods containing so-called “unavoidable residues,” need more protection than the standard platitude that “insecticides are safe when used according to directions.” This is an overstatement as we are advised that anybody—literate, illiterate, informed or ignorant—can go into any farm or garden-supply source, anywhere, everywhere, purchase an ounce, pound or hundred-weight of any of these death-dealing, health-destroying materials, use them indiscriminately, as most of them actually do, so that humanity and living things everywhere, get the “benefit” of it all.

Genetic Interference

The husband and wife team Drs. Famy, of the Beatty Research Institute in London, recently reported that the chlorinated hydrocarbons, carbamates, and organophosphates convert into alkylating agents in the body. Alkylating agents are known to interfere with organogenesis. Drs. Famy inferred that if the mutations should occur in the reproductive cells, they could be transmitted to future generations through chromosome damage. Apparently, this is what happened in the “Thalidomide Episode.” In preliminary animal tests, new drugs such as LSD, cyclamate sweeteners, some tranquillizers, and two antibiotics are also suspected of having teratogenic effects.

Environmental Effects

In a conference on “Biological Effects of Pesticides in Mammalian Systems” at the recent New York Academy of Sciences meeting, Mr. R.E. Duggan, the Acting Deputy Associate Commissioner for Compliance of the FDA, advised that most of the pesticide residue in our daily diet now come from foods not directly treated with pesticides in the production. He referred to dairy foods, most vegetable oils, fish, and shellfish, which absorb chemicals that have been applied for other purposes. Those residues, he stated, “Are unavoidable and direct in that they result from environmental influences.”

At this same meeting, Dr. Sigmund Jegiero of the University of Montreal School of Hygiene stated, “Contemporary man must now face the fact that every meal he eats contains some quantity of pesticide residue, however minimal.” He further advised, “Every breath we draw contains some trace of pesticide.”

In regard to these environmental effects, Senator Gaylor Nelson of Wisconsin remarked, “DDT drifts with the air, flows with the rivers, falls with the rain, and should be banned except for firefighting uses.” He was concerned that in less than 25 years DDT has polluted the environment on a worldwide basis, and that it would be a pollution hazard for years even if discontinued at once. Some form of monitoring the environmental contamination arising from the use of pesticides is essential.

As early as 1964, at the American Chemical Society meeting in Chicago, they estimated that the average United States citizen ingested about 50 mg of DDT each year. Indications are that the amount would probably be increased at this time. Concentrated in the residual body fat at an unknown level of toxicity, it could be a hazard in any weight-reducing illness or even in weight-reduction programs. Generally presumed more or less harmless, we now learn that DDT may affect the central nervous system. Little is known of the toxicological significance of a daily diet of cumulative amounts of the tolerance levels of various chemical contaminants in just our food alone.

(See Part II in the December 1967 issue of Applied Trophology.)

Heather Wilkinson

Heather Wilkinson is the Archives Editor for Selene River Press.

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