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Daily News Blog

05
Aug

Debilitating Ear Blisters Plague Long Island Turtle Populations from Pesticide Use

(Beyond Pesticides, August 5, 2021) A recent report by Turtle Rescue of the Hamptons finds Long Island, New York turtles are experiencing higher rates of deadly aural abscesses or ear blisters from pesticide use. Previous research documents the role chemical exposure from environmental toxicants play in inner ear abscess formation among turtles. However, synergism (collaboration) between viral infection and toxic chemical exposure increases aural abscess instances. Considering these infections are taking a toll on the Long Island turtle population, government and wildlife officials must assess how chemical exposure promotes disease development to safeguard human, animal, and environmental health. Karen Testa, executive director of Turtle Rescue of the Hamptons, cautions, “I’m urging Long Islanders to think about how these pesticides are negatively impacting the natural world. Is your perfect green lawn worth the life of a turtle?”

Aural abscesses are painful ear blisters that can grow as big as a golf ball. Medical intervention is necessary to remove abscesses from turtles and treat them with an antibiotic regimen to prevent death. Turtle Rescue facility workers report a staggering 50 percent of turtles currently within their care to have aural abscesses. The percentage of turtles with this diagnosis is much higher than in past years.

Pesticide residues readily contaminate all ecosystems and are prevalent in soils, water (solid and liquid), and the surrounding air. The scientific literature demonstrates pesticides’ long history of adverse effects on the environment, including wildlifebiodiversity, and human health. The impacts of pesticides on wildlife are extensive and expose animals in urban, suburban, and rural areas to unnecessary risks. Pesticides can affect animals through direct or indirect applications like drift, secondary poisoning, and runoff. Some animals could encounter direct spraying, while others may consume plants or prey contaminated with pesticides. According to a 2016 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency assessment, two commonly used pesticides (chlorpyrifos and malathion) are “likely to adversely affect” 97% of species listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Furthermore, a more recent EPA assessment finds the excessive use of the most popular herbicide (weedkiller) glyphosate threatens 93 percent of all endangered species. This EPA announcement occurred only a few days following the agency’s report on atrazine (another commonly used and toxic herbicide) causing harm to more than half of endangered species.

This report demonstrates that exposure to chemical contaminants has implications for turtle health, not only in Long Island but around the world. Chemical contamination promoting disease/viral infection is not a new phenomenon among wildlife. Insects, other terrestrial and aquatic organisms, and marine and terrestrial mammals can all experience weakened immune function from viral and bacteria upon pesticide exposure. For instance, studies find pesticide exposure can limit immune response in honey bees, causing early onset of infection or increased probability of mortality from infection. Reports demonstrate neonicotinoid insecticide exposure impairs honey bees’ ability to groom Varroa mites responsible for a disease known as deformed wing virus (DWV). Additionally, California sea lions are experiencing high rates of urogenital carcinoma (UGC) cancer incidences from the combined effect of toxic “legacy” pesticides like DDT and the viral infection Otarine herpesvirus-1 (OtHV1). According to multiple studies, exposure to the weed killer glyphosate (patented as an antibiotic) changes the bacterial composition of the gut microbiome in cattle, rodents, and honey bees. Like glyphosate, atrazine has an association with gut microbiome disruption, causing sex-specific shifts in microbiota. Atrazine is notoriously associated with endocrine disruption among amphibians and reptiles, resulting in reproductive and behavioral changes. Even among humans, exposure to endocrine-disrupting pesticides impacts hormone regulation promoting metabolic diseases like diabetes.

There are various possible explanations for pesticide exposure to cause adverse health effects among Long Island turtles. A 2004 study supports that organochlorine-induced vitamin A deficiency causes aural abscesses. Past studies find toxic organochlorine compounds like DDT can readily accumulate in turtles and block vitamin A receptors responsible for respiratory tract and inner ear health. The lack of vitamin A absorption causes aural abscesses to form from bacterial infections. Although the U.S. bans most organochlorines, they persist in the environment for many decades. Therefore, turtles can encounter pesticide exposure from contaminated soil and water. Furthermore, current-use pesticides may have the ability to re-release soil-bound organochlorines. This phenomenon is occurring in the French West Indies islands as glyphosate use is causing soil erosion, releasing soil-bound organochlorine chlordecone into the surrounding waters. Another possibility is that current-use pesticides are producing similar impacts on vitamin deficiency among turtles. However, officials must not dismiss other causes of vitamin A deficiency —such as direct dietary deficiency, interference in the gastrointestinal absorption of vitamin A, the presence of other endocrine-disrupting chemicals, or other causes.

Turtles face multiple threats from environmental factors: from motor vehicle/appliance injuries to habitat destruction and overfishing. However, pesticides are ubiquitous and continuously expose these animals’ toxins in conjunction with environmental factors. Turtle Rescue facility workers note that aural abscess incidents are getting worse due to COVID-19. Advocates suggest that with more individuals remaining at home, chemical inputs are increasing, particularly for pesticides like disinfectants and lawn care chemicals. Testa notes, “We are seeing a staggering number of aural abscesses in the turtles that are being brought in to our center. These injuries are adversely affecting wildlife and it’s worse this year. Because of Covid and spending more time at home, homeowners are spraying toxins on their lawns. These chemicals are poisoning our turtles and at the same time, damaging our ecosystem.”

Furthermore, reports indicate that the excessive use of COVID disinfectants (registered as pesticides) harms wildlife. Therefore, the turtle may experience a weakened ability to overcome chemical exposure, thus leaving it vulnerable to disease development. Advocates advise homeowners and landscapers to significantly reduce the number of pesticides applied in and around the home and garden. Instead, homeowners and landscapers alike should rely on non-toxic, organic alternatives.

Chemical contamination is ubiquitous in terrestrial and marine environments. Thus, turtles and other animals can help identify risks to humans by exhibiting signs of environmental threat sooner than humans in the same area. Government and health officials must address chemical pollution before similar declines in human general health, fitness, and well-being. Furthermore, climate crisis implications like melting glaciers present a new concern over the levels of chemical concentrations in waterways from DDT, its metabolites, and other persistent organic pollutants trapped in ice. Toxic pesticide use must end to protect the nation’s and world’s waterways and reduce the number of pesticides that make their way into drinking water. Replacing pesticides with organic, non-toxic alternatives is crucial for safeguarding public health, particularly communities vulnerable to pesticide toxicity. Learn more about the hazards pesticides pose to wildlife and what you can do by visiting Beyond Pesticides’ wildlife program page.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: Patch

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