A View from David Ewing Duncan

Waiter, Is There a Fungicide in My Soup?

Scientists in Canada have developed dipstick that measures levels of pesticides in food and beverages.

  • November 6, 2009

The science of biomonitoring continues to develop new technologies to inform governments, industry and individuals about what chemicals get into the environment - and into us - that shouldn’t be there.

Most of these monitoring techniques are expensive and complicated, and can take hours or days to produce results. I know, because I have had labs test me for detectable levels of hundreds of chemical toxins–pesticides, metals, flame retardants, and more–for a story published in 2006.,

Now a team of chemists at McMaster University in Ontario have published a paper in Analytical Chemistry that describes a new biomonitoring technique using treated paper on a stick that can quickly identify trace amounts of pesticides in your chicken soup, or your first early morning cup of joe.

As reported in R&D:

The scientists describe the development of a new paper-based test strip that changes color shades depending on the amount of pesticide present. In laboratory studies using food and beverage samples intentionally contaminated with common pesticides, the test strips accurately identified minute amounts of pesticides. The test strips, which produced results in less than 5 minutes, could be particularly useful in developing countries or remote areas that may lack access to expensive testing equipment and electricity, they note.

As these tools for measuring human-produced toxins get easier and cheaper, the collection of data will hopefully provide a clearer picture of the true levels of these pollutants in the environment, and inside us. This also will speed up the effort to better understand how toxins interact with bodies and cells at a molecular level - including the interaction of genes and toxins that may or may not be contributing to a rise in certain diseases such as leukemia in children and brain cancer.
Are trace amounts of pesticides and other pollutants to blame? We still don’t know - but developments like this one will help us find out.

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