The term pesticides covers a range of synthetic chemicals. There are different types of pesticides, such as insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, and rodenticides. Herbicides are the most commonly used worldwide, except in India, where insecticides are the most popular with 45% applied to cotton crops.1
30 Facts On Pesticides
- The environmental impact of pesticides is defined as the effects on non-target species. I would suggest to redefine environmental impact as the overall effects on the environment, not just target or non-target species. (Target means the species pesticides are aiming to kill versus the ones that are not intended to kill—non-target.)
- “Over 98% of sprayed insecticides and 95% of herbicides reach a destination other than their target species.” In other words, pesticides miss the target completely in an overwhelming majority of cases. It makes you wonder why they are still in use if they are not doing what they are meant to do.2
- In spite of such data, the use of pesticides has increased worldwide.
- Pesticides are a 12.5 billion dollar industry in the US alone.3 Market analysts forecast revenues of over 52 billion US$ in 2019.
- There is an estimated 2 billion pounds of pesticide used worldwide and an estimated one billion pound just in the US!
- There are more than 17,000 pesticide products currently in the US market and many are “approved through ‘conditional registration,’ a regulatory loophole that allows products on the market quickly without thorough review.” It is worrying that products are allowed in the market without proper tests or knowing their environmental impact.4
- Agriculture accounts for 80% of pesticide use in the US. The rest is used by the industrial, commercial, governmental, and home & garden sectors. But this isn’t entirely an agricultural problem.
- “Pesticides are also found in the majority of US households with 78 million out of 105.5 million households indicating that they use some form of pesticide.”
- Urban use of pesticides has a major environmental impact in the US.5 According to the US geological survey, “in general more pesticides were detected in urban streams than in agricultural streams.”6
- The global extent of the problem can be seen in research that show that “every human contains pesticides in their fat cells.” Think about that for a moment. Every human!
- “It is clear that most people in the US carry a significant body burden of pesticides and pesticide metabolites,” according to Chemical Trespass, which looked at data by the 2003 Centre for Disease Control report. I was surprised to know that the accumulation of chemicals in our bodies is called body burden. No kidding!
- Pesticides are everywhere, in golf courses, schools, swimming pools, and parks, and not just in farmlands. Consumers are exposed to pesticides through food and water residues. The herbicide atrazine is found in 94% of US drinking water tested by the USDA. It is also amazing to think that pesticides can also be seen in everyday products like toothpaste and head lice lotion.
- They travel long distances and can be found in remote places on Earth.
- They have been linked to a range of health issues and chronic diseases. We can learn about how they can harm humans by the way they affect the animals they target. For example, insecticides target the brain and nervous system of insects, “which can mean they have neurotoxic effects on humans.”
- There can also be increased risk of certain types of cancer, Parkinson’s disease, neurodevelopmental effects like autism and ADHD, suspected disruption of hormone system, affected thyroid function, infertility, decreased fertility and declining sperm counts, and reduced male penis size in animals and un-descended testicles. They can also affect fetuses in early stages of development and in utero. Even if a parent was exposed before conception, crossing the placenta barrier during fetal development can result in low birth weight, reproductive problems including low sperm counts and other fertility problems later in life, and disruption of neurological development during infancy, potentially leading to learning disabilities and other neurobehavioral problems, reduced lactation, shortening the time mothers are able to breastfeed, birth defects, weakening of the immune system, affected human nervous system, interferance with the transmission of nerve impulses, development effects, increase in childhood cancers, etc.
- The effects of certain pesticides happen “at very low levels of exposure. Almost nothing is known about the long-term impacts of multiple chemicals in the body over long periods.”
- “Certain environmental chemicals, including pesticides termed as endocrine disruptors, are known to elicit their adverse effects by mimicking or antagonizing natural hormones in the body and it has been postulated that their long-term, low-dose exposure is increasingly linked to human health effects such as immune suppression, hormone disruption, diminished intelligence, reproductive abnormalities and cancer (Brouwer et al., 1999; Crisp et al., 1998; Hurley et al., 1998).”
- “While during the first two decades of pesticide research focused largely on man-made chemicals capable of mimicking estrogen, within the last five years we’ve seen that expand to include estrogen blockers, androgen blockers, progesterone blockers and compounds that interfere with thyroid. This last one is especially important because thyroid hormone is key to proper brain development.”
- “The developing fetus is exquisitely sensitive to both the natural hormone signals used to guide its development and the unexpected chemical signals that reach it from the environment. Both the natural signals and the chemicals that disrupt them act as ‘morphogens.’ They guide the fetus through forks in its developmental path and also help set its sensitivity to subsequent hormonal signals. This involvement of setting sensitivity can have life-long consequences. New science, for example, on the developing prostate, shows that natural and synthetic estrogens experienced in the womb can lead to enlarged and hypersensitive prostate in adulthood.”
- Some of the synthetic chemical compounds are notorious because they accumulate in our fatty tissue. These chemicals can then bio-accumulate up the food chain and can be passed on in the womb and through breast milk.
- No data on pesticides are available to the public, so we remain ignorant of the scope and impact on the environment and our health.
- The extent of the effects and their impact is not fully understood.
- The attitude and whole emphasis of governments and official organizations is on risk assessment, allowing them to continue the use of pesticides until unequivocal research comes out stating the devastating effects.
- Even if they are banned in one or several countries, they are in use in other places, releasing residues that affect us as these chemicals can travel great distances.
- There is no prevention, which would imply the need for a test and solid proof that it poses no damage whatsoever before releasing into the market.
- Dow Chemical Company has been shown to be responsible for chlorpyrifos. The company continues to produce and promote the pesticide in the US and internationally despite strong evidence of significant public health impacts.
- CDC’s position is that the levels of chemicals in humans are not a cause for concern echoed by pesticide manufacturers who claim that pesticides are not a significant threat to public health. We can see a slight conflict of interest in pesticide manufacturers and, going back in our recent history, is this not what tobacco manufacturers used to say as well?
- People in the US are “carrying dozens of chemicals in their bodies—and perhaps hundreds more not yet tested for.” Data comes from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 1999–2000 “in which 9,282 people in 26 US locations were interviewed and tested for 116 chemicals, including 34 pesticides.” Note that they were not tested for all the possible chemicals or pesticides, the number of pesticides is increasing, and the figures could be substantially larger as new ones come into the market.
- OC compounds could pollute the tissues of virtually every life form on the earth, the air, the lakes and the oceans, the fishes that live in them and the birds that feed on the fishes.
- “The economic impact of pesticides in non-target species (including humans) has been estimated at approximately $8 billion annually in developing countries.”
Pesticides have been found in the most remote areas of the planet and have contaminated every part of the environment. Residues are found in soil, air, water, plants, animals and humans. Pesticides are a threat to life. How much is life worth? How much is the cost of cleaning all those residues up and is it even possible? How long will they remain in the environment? How much does your health cost?
Economic interests seem to be more prevalent than any regard for the environment or concern for public health. The current modus operandi of pesticide manufacturers and government agencies is to use first, test later, and eventually ban the product after public outcry while substituting with something much worse—either a chemical or bio-engineered crops.
While this picture I have painted may seem depressing at first—what can we do if governments and corporations are destroying the environment? I can assure you that there are so many things you can do to change this picture and to bring yourself and your family back to a state of health.
|↑1, ↑5||Aktar, Wasim, Dwaipayan Sengupta, and Ashim Chowdhury. “Impact of pesticides use in agriculture: their benefits and hazards.” Interdisciplinary toxicology 2, no. 1 (2009): 1-12.|
|↑2||Environmental Impact Of Pesticides, Wikipedia.org|
|↑4||Pesticides 101, panna.org|
|↑6||Bortleson, Gilbert Carl, and Dale Davis. Pesticides in selected small streams in the Puget Sound Basin, 1987-1995. No. 67. US Geological Survey, 1997.|