If it has the suffix –cide in it, you know it's meant to kill something. Pesticides are designed to kill insects, weeds, fungi, bacteria, and other things that feed on crops, spread disease, are a nuisance, or destroy property. Farming is big business, and most food producing companies are driven to make money and pay the most attention to the bottom-line. Pesticides and genetically modified organisms are a way to ensure they get the crop yield they demand, no matter how it hurts the environment or the consumers. Pest control methods may be either biological or chemical in nature. Biological pest control can include fungi, bacteria, natural pest predators, and other organically present substances. Some biological measures include organisms that, without any manipulation, are naturally effective against pests; cats to mice, for example. These generally aren't toxic to humans or animals and don't leave a persistent residue. Chemical pest control methods are often an entirely different story.
Who Is to Blame?
Seven of the most toxic chemical compounds known to man are approved for use as pesticides in the production of food! Who approved them? A multinational organization called The Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) that came together in 1963 to form a cooperative effort between the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). The intent of the original 172 nations involved in this effort was to develop a set of food guidelines, standards, and codes of practice. It was to be an international endeavor to promote safety in food. Some of these toxins are referred to as persistent organic pollutants (POPs). They're called persistent because they do not biodegrade, nor are they easily removed from the environment.
The greatest risk to our environment and our health comes from the chemical pesticides. In spite of the dangers, the government maintains its approval of the use of toxic chemicals to make pesticides. And science is constantly developing new variations of poisons.
Broad-spectrum and Narrow-spectrum Pesticides
Broad-spectrum pesticides kill many pests, while narrow-spectrum pesticides do just the opposite. Narrow-spectrum pesticides are developed to kill specific types of organisms.  Examples are algicides for algae, avicides for birds, fungicides for fungi and oomycetes (also called water molds, they use surface water including precipitation on plants, to move around). Most pesticides kill pests directly on contact. Systemic pesticides work differently. They penetrate to the inside of a plant traveling along its absorption path. These poisons work by poisoning the pollen and nectar of flowers, and this can kill needed pollinators like butterflies and bees.
Pesticides and Bees
Pesticides are a major threat to bees. The systemic poisoning of flowers has killed a remarkable number of bees. We're simply losing too many of them. The bees and butterflies are pollinators, and they represent a natural tour de force in perpetuating plant cycles and the natural evolution of plants that rely on pollinators. You see, bees cross-pollinate to collect their food. Almost a quarter of maintained bee hives did not survive the winter of 2014-2015. That translates to a loss of tens of billions of bees. And it's estimated that this loss will negatively impact the agricultural economy to the tune of $15-30 billion every year.
Who's at Risk for Exposure to Pesticides?
Farmers and their families and other persons who use chemical pesticides regularly are at greatest risk for pesticide toxicity in their bodies. The danger spreads across larger areas, as the pesticides:
- Are carried on the wind
- Leave residues on produce
- Remain inside produce and animals
- Run off into open water, contaminating public water supply as well as fish and other seafood
Anyone who uses pesticides, or is present when pesticides are sprayed, is at risk for dangerous exposure. The pesticides can enter the body through skin, eyes, mouth and nose.
What Are the Dangers from Pesticides Exposure?
Pesticides can be toxic to humans and animals. In some cases, it only takes a small amount of some toxins to kill. And other toxins that are slower acting may take a long time to cause harm.
Pesticide production can be dangerous, too. One disaster at a pesticide manufacturing plant was in Bhopal, India. The plant accidentally released over 40 tons of an intermediate chemical gas, methyl isocyanate, used to produce some pesticides. As a direct result of the spill, nearly 4,000 people were killed immediately, overall approximately 15,000-20,000 people died in the ensuing years because of toxic chemical exposure. Today more than half a million people suffer from mild to severe permanent damage as a result of the disaster.
Children seem to be greatly susceptible to the toxic effects of pesticides. The Natural Resource Defense Council has collected data which recorded higher incidence of childhood leukemia, brain cancer, and congenital disabilities. These results correlated with early exposure to pesticides.
Even just using pesticides in amounts within regulation, studies have revealed neurotoxins can do serious damage during development. Researchers report the dangers of pesticides can start as early as fetal stages of life. The pesticides entry on Wikipedia lists some of the results that have been recorded in recent years including:
- Fetuses, (pre-birth babies), may suffer from exposure and exhibit behavioral problems, growth issues
- Lower cognitive scores, fewer nerve cells, and lower birth weight
- A lower resistance to the toxic effects of pesticides
- A greater risk (70% increase), for Parkinson's disease, even with low levels of pesticides
Can you believe the government approved the use of some organophosphates despite the occurrence of illnesses? It makes you wonder just what the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is working to protect.
What you also need to understand is that toxins from pesticides can remain in the body and build up in the liver and fatty tissue. And even at "safe" levels your reactions can be mild to severe. High levels of exposure can be fatal. How do you know if you're going to be ill? You don't. You just have to hope for the best. How will you be affected? Well, you don't know how your body will react to the toxins until it happens. Several factors determine how your body will react including your level of exposure, the type of chemical you ingest, and your individual resistance to the chemicals. Some people are unaffected or are mildly affected, while others become severely ill from similar levels of exposure. Some possible reactions are:
- Skin Irritations
- Breathing Problems
- Brain Disorders
How to Eliminate Toxins from Pesticides
Grow your produce. Growing your own crops means that you can use healthier methods to control any pests. There are all-natural remedies for controlling pests and enriching soil. Or you can use organic pest control methods.
If growing your food is not an option, shop healthy. Visit your local farmer's markets for the freshest organically grown foods. At your local grocery store, look for organic, local food products. More and more stores are working to accommodate this new healthier appetite by providing consumers with organically grown products.
There are certain produce items which contain the highest levels of pesticides. Avoiding these crops can reduce your pesticides consumption levels by as much as 90%. Some of these items are fruit like cherries, apples, peaches, pears and grapes. Vegetables you could avoid are celery, spinach, and sweet bell peppers. Remember, if they are responsibly grown, then these are safe to eat.
- "Pest Disease & Management." University of the West Indies. 2004. Web. 1 Mar. 2017.
- "CODEX Alimentarius: About Codex." Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 27 Feb. 2017. Web. 1 Mar. 2017.
- "UC Pest Management Guidelines Selectivity of Insecticides and Miticides." University of California Agriculture & Natural Resources. 2016. Web. 1 Mar. 2017.
- "What is a systemic insecticide?" Texas A&M Agrilife. Insects in the City, n.d. Web. 1 Mar. 2017.
- Henry, Mickaël, et al. "A Common Pesticide Decreases Foraging Success and Survival in Honey Bees." Science 336.6079 (2012): 348–350. Web. 1 Mar. 2017.
- "Colony Collapse Disorder." United States Environmental Protection Agency. 16 Sept. 2016. Web. 1 Mar. 2017.
- Sadler, Amelia. "Colony Collapse Disorder: The Economics of Decline." Haas School of Business University of California Berkeley. 19 Oct. 2016. Web. 1 Mar. 2017.
- "Potential Health Effects of Pesticides." Pesticide Education (Penn State Extension), n.d. Web. 1 Mar. 2017.
- "What is a pyrethroid insecticide?" Texas A&M AgriLife. Insects in the City, 2016. Web. 1 Mar. 2017.
- Broughton, Edward. "The Bhopal Disaster and Its Aftermath: A Review." Texas A&M AgriLife. Insects in the City, 2016. Web. 1 Mar. 2017.
- Mott, Lawrie. "The Disproportionate Impact of Environmental Health Threats on Children of Color." 103.6 (1995): n.pag. Web. 1 Mar. 2017.
- Rauh, Virginia A., et al. "Brain Anomalies in Children Exposed Prenatally to a Common Organophosphate Pesticide." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 109.20 (2012): 7871–7876. Web. 1 Mar. 2017.
- "Public Health Statement: DDT, DDE, DDD." Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registery. 2002. Web. 1 Mar. 2017.
- "Symptoms of Pesticide Poisoning." Pesticide Safety Education Program Cornell University. 2012. Web. 1 Mar. 2017.
- "Environmental Impacts on Reproductive Health." Association of Reproductive Health Professionals. Jan. 2010. Web. 1 Mar. 2017.
- Bassil, K. L., et al. "Cancer Health Effects of Pesticides." Official Publication of The College of Family Physicians of Canada 53.10 (2007): 1704–1711. Web. 1 Mar. 2017.
- Langley, R.L., and S.A. Mort. "Human Exposures to Pesticides in the United States." Journal of agromedicine. 17.3 (2012): 300–15. Web. 1 Mar. 2017.
†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.