U.S – Despite its prohibition for use on crops grown in the U.S., a study by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has detected chlormequat in the urine of four out of five individuals tested, signaling a potential health risk for consumers.

Chlormequat, a pesticide that has been proposed for use on barley, oat, triticale, and wheat crops by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has raised concerns due to its potential adverse effects on human health. 

While research on the direct impact of chlormequat on humans remains limited, animal studies have indicated adverse effects on reproductive health, fetal growth, and metabolic processes, prompting worries about its safety for human consumption.

EWG’s study, the first of its kind, analyzed urine samples collected from 96 individuals in the U.S. between 2017 and 2023. 

The results revealed a concerning trend, with an increasing number of people testing positive for chlormequat, particularly in 2023. 

Notably, the pesticide was detected in 69%, 74%, and 90% of samples collected in 2017, 2018–2022, and 2023, respectively, suggesting a rising level of consumer exposure to the chemical.

Furthermore, EWG’s investigation extended to food samples collected from U.S. grocery stores in 2022 and 2023, focusing on oat- and wheat-based products. Alarmingly, chlormequat was detected in a majority of nonorganic oat-based samples (92%), highlighting the pervasive presence of the pesticide in everyday food items.

The EPA’s proposal to allow chlormequat usage on certain crops has sparked further concern. Despite its current restriction to ornamental crops, the EPA’s proposal, in response to an application by chlormequat manufacturer Taminco, could potentially expand the pesticide’s use to essential food crops. 

However, before finalizing this proposal, the EPA must establish maximum tolerances for chlormequat in these crops and implement mitigation measures to address potential health risks to field workers and wildlife.

Remarkably, the EPA has already permitted the use of chlormequat on imported oats and other foods since 2018, and even increased the maximum tolerable level for the pesticide in 2020, further heightening concerns about consumer exposure.

In light of these findings and regulatory developments, EWG has emphasized the urgent need for ongoing monitoring of chlormequat in both foods and individuals, along with comprehensive epidemiological and animal studies to assess the safety implications of the pesticide. 

With public health at stake, continued vigilance and research are essential to safeguarding consumer well-being and mitigating potential risks associated with pesticide exposure.

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