Gold, L. S., Stern, B. S., Slone, T. H., Brown, J. P. Manley, N. B., and Ames, B. N.. Pesticide residues in food: Investigation of disparities in cancer risk estimates. Cancer Letters 117: 195-207 (1997). PDF
Much of the public perceives that exposure to synthetic pesticide residues in the diet is a major cause of cancer. The National Research Council (NRC), in a 1987 report Regulating Pesticides in Food: The Delaney Paradox, evaluated cancer risks for 29 pesticides that are rodent carcinogens and estimated that the risks for 23 were greater than one-in-a-million. In contrast, our group has ranked possible carcinogenic hazards from a variety of human exposures to rodent carcinogens using the HERP (Human Exposure/Rodent Potency) index, and found that dietary residues of synthetic pesticides ranked low. This paper evaluates the disparities in these analyses by examining the two components of risk assessment: carcinogenic potency in rodents and human exposure. Potency estimates based on rodent bioassay data are shown to be similar whether calculated, as in the NRC report, as the regulatory q1* or as TD50. In contrast, estimates of dietary exposure to residues of synthetic pesticides vary enormously, depending on whether they are based on the Theoretical Maximum Residue Contribution (TMRC) calculated by the Environmental Protection Agency vs. the average dietary residues measured by the Food and Drug Administration in the Total Diet Study (TDS). The TMRC is the theoretical maximum human exposure anticipated under the most severe field application conditions, which are far greater than dietary residues measured in the TDS. Several independent exposure studies suggest that the FDA dietary residues are reasonable estimates of average human exposures, whereas TMRC values are large overestimates. Using standard methodology and measured dietary residues in the TDS, the estimate of excess cancer risk from average lifetime exposure to synthetic pesticide residues in the diet appears to be less than one-in-a-million for each of the 10 pesticides for which adequate data were available.
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