Wednesday, April 20th, 2011...7:05 am


The Dangers of Chemical Pesticides

Pesticides are chemical substances that are used to kill, repel, or regulate the growth of biological organisms. This diverse group includes insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, nematicides, acaricides, rodenticides, avicides, wood preservatives, and antifoulants. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently estimated that more than 1.2 billion pounds of pesticides are applied to crops, forests, residential areas, public lands, and aquatic areas in the United States every year. The release of these chemicals into the environment creates a potential for unintended adverse health impacts to both humans and surrounding wildlife. (Laetz, Baldwin and Collier)

Pesticide Regulation

Mixtures of pesticides are common in the human food supply. These mixtures are also common in the aquatic environment, including lakes, river, streams, and other surface waters that support aquatic life. Assessing the cumulative toxicity of pesticides in mixtures has been a difficult challenge for environmental health research, as well as ecotoxicology, for the past several decades. In 1996, the United States Congress passed the Food Quality Protection Act, which directs the U.S. EPA to assess the human health risks from cumulative exposures to pesticides that share a common mechanism of action. Consideration of mixture toxicity is also required when pesticide tolerances are reassessed under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

Some pesticides are considered too hazardous for sale to the general public and are designated restricted use pesticides. Only certified applicators that pass an exam may purchase or supervise the application of restricted use pesticides. Records of sales and use are required to be maintained and may be audited by government agencies charged with the enforcement of pesticide regulations.

In Europe, recent EU legislation has been approved banning the use of highly toxic pesticides, including those that are carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic to reproduction, those that are endocrine-disrupting, and those that are persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic (PBT) or very persistent and very bioaccumulative (vPvB). Measures were approved to improve the general safety of pesticides across all EU member states. (Pesticide)

Pesticides Pose Serious Health Risks

Organic Pesticides as Alternatives

There are numerous health risks associated with chemical pesticide exposure, and listing each risk and type of pesticide is beyond the scope of this article. Instead, the most serious ramifications are described for sake of brevity.

Multiple studies over recent decades have examined the presence of xenobiotic substances in the blood or adipose tissue of a variety of subjects. A number of these compounds, including the chlorinated pesticide dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) and the industrial polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) compounds, are stored in the fat tissue of the body and, instead of being easily excreted, continue to accumulate over time. A portion of these fat-soluble compounds is passed from mother to child, thus, all new life starts with a toxic load. The load is increased incrementally through eating, drinking, and breathing, which increases the total toxin burden during the aging process.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) funded and published two studies that specifically tested adults and newborns in the United States to see how many toxins were carried. The EWG originally tested nine adults, none of whom worked in industries that would ordinarily expose them to high levels of environmental poisons. The nine adults in the EWG study had an average of 91 of the 210 toxic compounds that were tested present in serum, including an average of 33 PCBs and four chlorinated pesticides.

Since these compounds can be passed from mother to child, the EWG designed another study to measure how many chemicals would be found in a random sampling of cord blood from infants in the United States. The EWG newborn study looked for the presence of 413 different xenobiotic chemicals in the cord blood of 10 infants born in U.S. hospitals in 2004. A total of 287 toxic compounds were found in the cord blood samples, including 147 PCBs and 21 chlorinated pesticides. (Crinnion)

Chlorinated Pesticides

Chlorinated pesticides are insecticidal primarily because of their neurotoxic action of disrupting ion flow, thus interfering with axonal transmission. This leads to over-stimulation of the nerves with uncontrolled neuronal discharge.

Poisoning signs and symptoms of chlorinated compounds (headache, nausea, vomiting, hyperesthesias, irritability, confusion, convulsions, respiratory depression, cardiac arrhythmias, and aplastic anemia) are rarely seen as these compounds have mostly been banned from use since the 1980s. However, since they are fat-soluble and tend to accumulate in the body, they can cause a variety of health problems that often begin slowly. The effects of these compounds are most often seen in the neurological, immunological, and endocrinological systems, although they can also affect the cardiovascular, respiratory, gastrointestinal, and other bodily systems. (Crinnion)

An October 2007 study has linked breast cancer from exposure to DDT prior to puberty. Poisoning may also occur due to use of DDT and other chlorinated hydrocarbons by entering the human food chain when animal tissues are affected. Symptoms include nervous excitement, tremors, convulsions or death. (Pesticide)

Why Some Pesticides are Still Used

Pesticides are used to control organisms considered harmful. For example, they are used to kill mosquitoes that can transmit potentially deadly diseases, such as West Nile virus, yellow fever, and malaria. They can also kill bees, wasps or ants that can cause allergic reactions. Insecticides can protect animals from illnesses that can be caused by parasites, such as fleas.

Pesticides can prevent sickness in humans that could be caused by moldy food or diseased produce. Herbicides can be used to clear roadside weeds, trees and brush. They can also kill invasive weeds that may cause environmental damage. Herbicides are commonly applied in ponds and lakes to control algae and plants, such as water grasses, that can interfere with activities like swimming and fishing and cause the water to look or smell unpleasant. Uncontrolled pests, such as termites and mold can damage structures.

Pesticides are used in grocery stores and food storage facilities to manage rodents and insects that infest food, such as grain. Each use of a pesticide carries some associated risk. Proper pesticide use decreases these associated risks to a level deemed acceptable by pesticide regulatory agencies, such as the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) of Canada.

Pesticides can save money for farmers by preventing crop losses to insects and other pests. Farmers receive an estimated fourfold return on money they spend on pesticides. One study found that not using pesticides reduced crop yields by about 10%. Another study, conducted in 1999, found that a ban on pesticides in the United States may result in a rise of food prices, loss of jobs, and an increase in world hunger. (Pesticide)

Organic Pesticides

Since the public’s increased awareness about the harmful properties of chemical pesticides, organic pesticides have been developed that use natural ingredients, which are easily broken down by nature. Organic pesticide ingredients, such as neem oil and pytrethrins, effectively kill insects in all stages of development, while being nontoxic to humans and animals.

If you want to avoid store-bought produce and have an organic garden, look for organic pesticide sprays with the OMRI logo on the bottle. OMRI listed products are approved for use with organic gardens. An organic insect spray can also be used up to the day of harvest.

This post was sponsored by Safer Brand.

Related Content:

Leave a Reply