This Is Your Brain on Poison

Susan Freinkel’s “Warning Signs: Pesticides and the Young Brain” [March 31] should be required reading for everyone who cares about the well-being of children (and thus, about our future), especially for those who believe that childhood vaccines cause autism. A mountain of solid evidence from all over the world indicates no connection between immunization and autism; this article presents some of the compelling evidence that the tsunami of toxic compounds is responsible for neurodevelopmental and endocrine-disruptor damage in children. How much better for us all if the movement blaming vaccinations for autism came to appreciate this evidence and turned its sights away from life-saving vaccines and onto industrial toxins as the likelier source of this heartbreaking epidemic.
Alan Meyers, MD, MPH
Professor of pediatrics, Boston University School of Medicine
cambridge, mass.

This is excellent, important research, beautifully reported. We believe there is a place for a lower-budget but higher-numbers version of such research, linking environmental exposures to important child outcomes. Evidence is mounting that pesticides and other neurotoxins are harming not only wildlife but also our children. We are collecting information from parents of children on the autism spectrum. Our questionnaires may be found at
Emily Diamond, PsyD
James M. Diamond, MD
berkeley, calif.

Reading “Warning Signs” on pesticides and their impact on farmworkers and their families brought back memories from my childhood in the early 1940s. I remember working in the fields while an airplane sprayed them. We were so impressed by the aircraft, we paid no attention to the pesticides falling on us. The plight of the farmworker—the efforts of the late Cesar Chavez and others notwithstanding—has not improved much since then.
Ernesto Calderon
austin, tex.

Your in-depth look at the effects of pesticides exposes a serious public health risk that must be addressed aggressively through the work of community advocates, independent researchers and federal agencies.

The CHAMACOS study is an excellent example of the kind of independent, community-based research that is needed to learn more about the effects of pesticide exposure in farmworker communities and ways to protect workers and their families. The current system of pesticide regulation relies too heavily on industry-sponsored data, hindering the ability of public health officials, safety experts, medical personnel, employers and consumers to make decisions that protect workers.

In addition, federal pesticide safety laws need to be strengthened. After more than twenty years of inaction, the EPA recently proposed revisions to the Worker Protection Standard (WPS), the primary set of regulations aimed at protecting farmworkers working with pesticides. The changes include more-frequent and improved worker safety training and improvements in protective equipment for those who handle and apply pesticides.

The EPA should go beyond these modest improvements and ensure that protections for farmworkers are comparable to those afforded workers in other industries using dangerous chemicals. These protections are hardly too much to ask for the men and women who put food on our tables every day.

Now is the time to support stronger regulations. The EPA is accepting public comments on its proposed revisions to the WPS until June 17. To learn more, read Exposed and Ignored: How Pesticides Are Endangering Our Nation’s Farmworkers or visit

Bruce Goldstein
President, Farmworker Justice
washington, d.c.

Bravo, Susan Freinkel (whose book on plastic is a must-read)! Now it’s time for a cover story on the effort to update the Toxic Substances Control Act, never revised since it was passed in 1976 and shamefully and shockingly out of date. Unfortunately, since the death of Senator Frank Lautenberg last year, the reform effort has deteriorated. The chemical regulatory system has been hijacked by the chemical industry. It’s a story of heroes and villains and the of states’ rights champions’ attempts to disappear any vestige of state regulation. Push is at shove right now, folks—the House version of “reform” will be introduced in April.
Lin Kaatz Chary
gary, ind.

“Monetizing” Scholars

Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health has been a leader in the field: teaching, leadership development, research, scholarship and contributions to the public discourse. I can only hope the school’s recent move to lay off two outstanding scholars and contributors to public health because they did not bring in enough grant money is not emulated by other institutions [Michelle Goldberg, “Shortchanging the Mind,” March 31].
Mary Sullivan
lincoln, neb.

It really makes you wonder what these universities are up to and just how far they have gone from their educational mission. I turned down a spot at Columbia Teachers College because they wanted $50,000 for two semesters of a flaky master’s program! This was twenty years ago. Are they gambling the money away?
Kathryn Kuchenbrod

Doubting Thomas

Patricia Williams, in “I Am, We Are” [March 31], took from I, Too, Am Harvard that the black students “hesitate before asking questions in class—for a dumb question from a white person isn’t heard as a reflection on all white people, but any question from a black person tends to be scrutinized for inherent inferiority, ‘proof’ that the student’s lonely little voice is the evil marker of where a ‘more qualified white person’ ought to be sitting.” Could this explain Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s refusal to ask any questions in Court?
Sidney Feshbach
rochester, vt.

Mishegoss II

The exchange between Rick Luttmann and Gennady Estraikh [“Letters,” March 31] regarding the status of Yiddish put me in mind of the distinction conveyed by linguist Max Weinreich: “A language is a dialect with an army and navy.”
David Vossbrink