Poisoning the Poison

A new biologic could save the thousands of people killed by pesticides every year.

Jack Woodall
Oct 1, 2007

In the year 2000, hospitals in six Turkish cities were flooded by 2,000 students with poisoning symptoms after eating hazelnuts. Fortunately, nobody died. The nuts had been stored for a long time in a grain depot disinfected with an organophosphate (OP) pesticide.

The problem of pesticide poisoning is most acute in developing countries, where workers mix OP pesticides and spray fields without using gloves, goggles, or protective clothing, and then enter sprayed areas without waiting a safe interval. Despite using only 25% of the world's pesticides, these countries are home to 99% of pesticide-related deaths.

It's not just a problem in the developing world: In 1998 in California, all 34 workers fell ill after returning to weed a crop sprayed with an OP pesticide without waiting the recommended 48 hours. One was hospitalized. (Eating food treated with OPs is, of course, not nearly as harmful as swallowing heavily contaminated nuts...