Mothers in farm regions threatened by harmful pesticide
25 June 2004

Chemical Concern: Mothers in farm regions threatened by harmful pesticide

By Marianna Grigoryan
ArmeniaNow reporter

Research conducted on 30 women in three regions of Armenia found that 25
had traces of the chemical DDT in their systems.

Decades ago, Soviet health officials banned the use of DDT
(dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane), a pesticide used to kill weeds and bugs
in agriculture crops.

As in other countries, USSR scientists concluded that exposure to the
powerful chemical could lead to birth defects, could promote the incidence
of cancer, cause liver failure, effect the nervous system. Exposure was
especially dangerous for pregnant women.

Tests were conducted on 30 mothers.
The research began last year and is now in its second phase, testing women
in maternity homes of Ararat, Masis, and Aparan regions – farming districts
where pesticides are used for treating vineyards and other crops.

“We examine 30 women from different regions in every stage of our research,
however thousands of women have similar problems in Armenia,” says Albert
Mayrapetyan, director of Scientific Research Institute on Environment,
Hygiene and Preventive Toxicology at the Ministry of Health. “And if we’ve
found those substances in mother’s milk, this already shows that those
pesticides are put into use in the surrounding area. During the second stage
of our research we will examine the negative affect of that milk on the
health of the newborns.

“Considering the threat, prohibition during Soviet times was very strict and
DDT was out of use right away. However, our latest research shows that it is
still are a threat to people.”

“The existence of DDT in milk can lead to various negative consequences
during the period of a child’s development, beginning with mental
development damage up to nervous and immunity damage,” says Lilia Simonyan,
representative of a non governmental organization that focuses on women’s

Simonyan says women become exposed to the chemical while working in gardens
or fields where DDT has been applied.

And while the rate of incidence may seem alarming, Karine Saribekyan, head
of Mother and Child Health Department at the Ministry of Health, says that
research is not yet a reason to discourage mothers from breastfeeding.

“Mother’s milk is irreplaceable for a newborn and it’s not a wise thing to
refuse from feeding babies in a natural way,” says Saribekyan. “Specialists
have to start teaching villagers how to use pesticides wisely and to find
out where DDT came from.”

There are different opinions regarding the reappearance of DDT, but there
hasn’t been any specific conclusions about its renewed use.

The chairman of the Union of Greens Hakob Sanasaryan says the DDT was not
destroyed after it was banned, but it was kept and after a while was again
put into circulation.

According to Mayrapetyan DDT is being smuggled in from Azerbaijan and Middle

“Even though usage of DDT is prohibited, the import of pesticides is in
general free for individual small owners and it’s impossible to have a
complete control of this situation,” says the head of Plant Cultivation
department at the Ministry of Agriculture, Gagik Manucharyan.

According to specialists, during Soviet years everything was systematized
and experts oversaw the use of agricultural chemicals. Today, however,
villagers have their own land and their means of farming is practically

“We have been doing researches for five years in regions and carry out
information campaigns on how and what quantities pesticides have to be used
in,” says Simonyan. “The awareness level is not so high.”

Mayrapetyan says DDT in mother’s milk is not the only trace of pesticide

“As a result of our research we found out that in the region where a large
quantity of pesticides is being applied, health problems are incomparably
higher than for instance in mountainous regions where they use very little
pesticides,” he says. “Now, another study is in process regarding the number
of stillbirths, and anomalies in the ‘risk’ area and the preliminary picture
is not encouraging at all