By: Melanie Forti, Program Director
Usually when we talk about pesticides we think about eliminating insects. But pesticides are much more than just that. A pesticide is a substance or a mix of substances intended to prevent, destroy, repel or mitigate any pest such as weeds (herbicides), insects (insecticides), fungus (fungicides), rodents (rodenticides), germs (germicides) and others.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states, pesticide products are used in excess of one billion pounds per year in the United States. The excessive amount of pesticides used can result in potential health damage to humans, animals, other living organisms, and the environment.
Around the world it’s common to use toxic pesticides to control pest problems. In addition to using pesticides in agricultural fields, you can also find them at homes, schools, buildings, parks, forests, and roads. Pesticides can also be found in the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the water we drink. It is so common that it has become difficult to find areas where pesticides are not applied. Pesticides are everywhere in this world even though we don’t really think about them that way.
Environmental Effects of Pesticides
With billions of pounds of pesticides applied onto the environment every year, we are endangering ourselves and our environment. Pesticides may accumulate in water systems pollute the air, and the extinction of important species such as pollinators that are so critical to agriculture. Also, pesticides can spread and cause potential harm through vocalization which occurs when a pesticide turns into a gas or vapor after it has been sprayed.
Ironically, a high percentage of prayed pesticides do not reach its target. Pesticides can drift or volatilize from the treated area and contaminate air, soil, and non-target plants. The results of a survey conducted by U.S. Geological in Reston, VA indicate that almost every pesticide investigated has been detected in rain, air, fog, or snow across the nation at different times of the year. Many pesticides have been detected in air at more than half the sites sampled nationwide.
Pesticide exposure has been linked to the death and mutation of amphibians, decrease of pollinators, and the mysterious death of bats. Frogs (male Tadpoles) are mutating if exposed to atrazine-contaminate waters. Insecticides are toxic to bees, and a recent study found a mixture of toxic pesticides in the wax and honey of commercial hives. The exposure to pesticides among bats has compromised their immune system. As a result they are more susceptible to the fungus-related disease White Nose Syndrome which has killed over 1 million bats since 2006. These are just some of the effects of pesticide exposure, imagine the effects on humans, especially children which immune system in still in development.
Human Exposure to Pesticides
Exposure to pesticide may lead to serious short and/or long-term health problems. Despite the potentially dangers to human health, these chemicals are used at home but mostly in agricultural settings where crops are harvested. As a result, farmworkers are at the highest risk for health issues related to pesticide exposure. EPA estimates that 300,000 farmworkers are poisoned by pesticides each year.
Exposure to pesticides may lead to human health hazards including headaches, nausea, fatigue, dizziness, different types of cancer, reproductive harm, endocrine disruption, nerve damage, eye irritation, Parkinson disease, Alzheimer disease, autism spectrum disorders (ASD), and death.
Many pesticides are designed to act as cholinesterase inhibitors. The enzyme is critical to proper functioning and development of the central nervous system. This means that the pesticide is designed to interrupt normal reproductive development. Children exposed to pesticides may suffer from disruptive reproductive and immune systems because they are still in development. The most common health effects among children linked to pesticide exposure are allergies, birth defects, cancer, leukemia, brain cancer, asthma, learning disabilities, ADHD, autism, liver damage and much more.
While we work hard to help protect our nation’s farmworkers, there is still much more to be done. Some alternatives to reduce the effects pesticides include manual removal, applying heat, covering weeds with plastic, placing traps and lures, removing pest breeding sites, maintaining healthy soils that breed healthy, more resistant plants, cropping native species that are naturally more resistant to native pests and supporting bio-control agents such as birds and other pest predators.
- The government should increase their standards by making stricter testing and approving procedures and stronger laws to protect environment, farmworkers and the general public.
- Corporations should work together with the government and communities to develop sustainable methods of pest control without the need of pesticides.
- The government should work together with individuals and business to help maintain our water and air polluted free.
Our food, air, water, and soil should be toxic free. Everyone deserves the right to work in a safe place and live in a safe environment. Developing sustainable methods of pest control is key to our families’ health as well as our environment’s health. Also, growing food organically may help contribute to safer and healthier individuals and environment. What would you do?
“Take Action! How to Eliminate Pesticide Use.” (2003) National Audubon Society. Pages 1-3.