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September 3, 2003 

Pesticide Symposium Focuses on Identifying Threats

The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health will host a day-long symposium to inform physicians and health care professionals about the dangers and symptoms associated with pesticide poisoning.

Pesticides are agents designed to kill unwanted organisms and include insecticides and herbicides. Pesticides and Public Health: Identifying the Threat, Treating the Problem, is particularly timely, given the widespread use of pesticides in Maryland to combat West Nile virus and their potential use as terrorist weapons.

The event will be held Saturday, September 6, 2003 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in School’s East Wing Auditorium, which is located at 615 N. Wolfe Street in Baltimore, Md. It is sponsored jointly by MedChi (the Maryland Medical Society) and the Maryland Pesticide Network in association with the School of Public Health’s Mid-Atlantic Public Health Training Center, Center for Excellence in Community Environmental Health Practice, Center for A Livable Future, Center for Public Health Preparedness, and Baltimore Physicians for Social Responsibility.

Although pesticides have helped to prevent some infectious diseases and have improved crop yields, a growing body of research indicates that they can be harmful to humans—particularly sensitive populations such as pregnant women, infants, children, the elderly, and people with pre-existing illnesses. Pesticides have been linked to a wide range of acute and chronic illnesses. Studies have linked pesticide exposure at lower levels to increased risk of cancer, brain injury, birth defects, reproductive disorders, and kidney and liver damage.

Pesticides are used in agriculture, homes and gardens, public grounds, hospitals, schools, day care centers, nursing homes, and for combating mosquito-borne diseases. Because of their widespread use and the potential for related illness and injury, physicians need to be prepared to recognize, manage, and prevent pesticide-related health conditions in their patients and communities. Unfortunately, pesticide injury is often misdiagnosed by health care providers.

The event will feature nationally known experts in the field, including Lynn Goldman, MD, a pediatrician and professor of Environmental Health Sciences at the School of Public Health and a former assistant administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances. She will speak on how to prevent pesticide health risks. Routt Reigart, MD, professor of pediatrics at the Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, and co-editor of the EPA’s manual, Recognition and Management of Pesticide Poisonings, will provide an overview of the acute and chronic effects of pesticides. The symposium will also address the potential of pesticides being used as a terrorist weapon, as stated in the National Practice Skills Guidelines for Medical and Nursing Practice, which was published in January 2003.

“Given the wide range of pesticide exposures faced by the public, we, the health care community, need to know what the symptoms of acute pesticide injury are so that we can effectively treat such injuries. We also need to understand the potential long-term effects. Most importantly, we need to be educated so that we can educate the public about minimizing their exposure to pesticides,” said Richard L. Humphrey, MD, associate professor in Medicine, Oncology, and Pathology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and one of the symposium organizers.

“This is a truly unique and far-reaching symposium in that we will be addressing a wide range of critical issues, from identifying acute symptoms, to potential chronic illnesses, to tracking pesticide injuries in the state and nationwide, to alternatives to pesticides used for West Nile virus control and home and garden needs,” said Ruth Berlin, executive director of the Maryland Pesticide Network, a coalition of 27 organizations concerned about pesticides and public health and the primary coordinating sponsor of the symposium. “This event for health care providers is also cutting edge in its focus on the health risks associated with pesticides, rather than simply debating the pros and cons of pesticide use.”

Symposium Agenda

Public Affairs Media Contacts for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: Kenna Brigham or Tim Parsons at 410-955-6878 or 

Photographs of Lynn Goldman are available upon request.