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Pesticides and Health

September 01, 1996

Re "Risks of Pesticide Debated," Aug. 19.

Raili West believes that her exposure to methyl bromide fumes caused an illness. She also evidently believes that all of society should pay an exorbitant price for her unique hypersensitivity to the chemical.

Methyl bromide is a boon to humanity. I can say that in absolute confidence. The chemical prevents damage to crops and thus keeps food cheap and abundant. Were West to prevail in her quest to outlaw the substance, the poor would suffer disproportionately because food prices would increase due to a smaller supply.

But concern for the poor is never high on the list of "environmental issues."

West says, "I think it [methyl bromide] should be outlawed, because people are being silently poisoned."

I think it would be better if mindless environmental notions such as West's could be outlawed, as they do far more damage than any poison.

Your article states that methyl bromide caused 18 deaths since 1982 and has poisoned 452 others in those 14 years. Compared with tripping on the stairs or slipping in the bathtub, the chemical has a laudable safety record.

The bottom line is that our society needs pesticides to promote health and well-being. The availability of fruits and vegetables certainly lengthens the life span of the vast majority. Those who advocate outlawing pesticides should contemplate the following question: Would you rather die of cancer at 89--or of malnutrition at 14?



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