Monday, April 28, 2008

Overview of Pesticide Use

(a shorter version of this post was published earlier this year in the local health magazine, The Wellness Guide)

Ridding society and the environment of harmful chemicals and toxins is going to be a generations-long process. At least there are signs of progress - banning BPA in baby bottles, Ontario banning pesticide use. Summer is coming, I think, and there is sure to be pesticide use. Below are some facts and tips on pesticide use.

Pesticides used in foods and lawn care can make you very sick. It may be through direct contact with them in the garden, or in the kitchen. The more you avoid them the more you lower the risk of developing an illness caused by them.

What is a pesticide? (source: EPA)
A pesticide is any substance or mixture of substances intended prevent, destroy, repel, or reduce pests like bugs, bacteria or rodents.

The term pesticide also applies to herbicides, fungicides, and various other sustances used to control pests. (source)

Many household products contain pesticides. For instance, Insect repellents for personal use, Rodent poisons, kitchen, laundry, bath disinfectants and sanitizers, and lawn and garden products like week killers.

In order to affect a pest, a pesticide must act upon some vital system or chemical process within that organism.

How Can Pesticides Harm You?

The harmful effects of a pesticide can be either acute - an immediate response to short term exposure to a high dosage - or chronic - a response to long term exposure to a low dosage. They pose the greatest risk to the people who handle them. Insecticides are particularly dangerous, especially when a person directly handles it.

Many insecticides attack the nervous system of the target insects and therefore are toxic, to some degree, to other species with a nervous system (i.e., humans and many other members of the animal kingdom).">Chronic Health Effects
It is no easy task to associate a particular health problem with a specific chemical, but there is plenty of research that points out the long-term effects or potential effects of exposure to pesticides. Here are some:
Chronic health effects typically include cancer, interference with the development of the fetus and child, and disruption of the reproductive, endocrine, immune and/or central nervous systems (neurotoxic effects).

A particularly big problem is the effect pesticides have as Endocrine Disruptors. The endocrine system is made up of glands, which secrete hormones.

Research on pesticides suspected of acting as endocrine disruptors appear to be linked to the development of breast, prostate and testicular cancers, endometriosis, abnormal sexual development, lowered male fertility, damage to the thyroid and pituitary glands, lowered immunity, and behavioural problems

What Happens to a Pesticide After Application?

Some pesticides are strongly attracted to soil particles and are held tightly by them. They endanger the environment either by affecting non target species or by contaminating water.

After pesticides are applied there are other dangers
• they can convert from a solid or liquid into a gas and move into the atmosphere.
• they can move from a field or lawn in runoff water
• they can leach materials down through the soil with water
• they can cause plant uptake - movement into plants through either the leaves or roots

Infants and children may be more vulnerable to pesticide exposure (source: Consumer Information Center)

Since their internal organs are still developing and maturing, infants and children may be more vulnerable to health risks posed by pesticides.
  • In relation to their body weight, infants and children eat and drink more than adults, which may increase their exposure to pesticides in food and water.
  • Certain behaviors - such as playing on floors or lawns or putting objects in their mouths - increase a child's exposure to pesticides used in the homes and yards.

    Sensible Food Practices

    Organic foods have the lowest risk of containing pesticides. However, if you are buying regular fruits and vegetables, then you will want to follow these helpful tips:


    Wash and scrub all fresh fruits and vegetables thoroughly under runny water. Running water has an abrasive effect that soaking that not have. This will help remove bacteria and traces of chemicals from the surface of fruits, vegetables and dirt from crevices. Not all pesticide residues can be removed by washing.

    Peeling and Trimming:

    Peel fruits and vegetables when possible to reduce dirt, bacteria, and pesticides. Discard outer leaves of leafy vegetables. Trim fat from meat and skin from poultry and fish because some pesticides residues collect in fat.

    Selecting a Variety of Foods:

    Eat a variety of foods, from a variety of sources. This will give you a better mix of nutrients and reduce your liklihood of exposure to a single pesticide.

    Although Canada's Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency evaluates, and monitors domestic and foreign products and foods, the fact remains that food we eat are exposed to toxic chemicals. With 85,000 chemicals used in growing food, consumers are wise to take every precaution to reduce the risk of consuming these chemical residues.

    Reading the pesticide label is the quickest way to obtain information regarding the relative risk posed by a pesticide.

    Buying or growing organic food is your best option to reduce your intake of pesticides. For lawn care look for more natural ways to maintain it. This will allow the kids to play on the grass without being exposed to harmful pesticides.

    Here are a couple of links with alternatives to chemical pesticides:

    BayGirl said...
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    BayGirl said...

    Thank you for posting this. I am personally very concerned about the effects of all the crap in personal care products, plastics, and cleaners, in addition to the food and pesticide issue. Just a tidbit...I read somewhere that antibacterial soaps/dish liquids, etc. are actually categorized as pesticides. I wonder how many people realize that and still use them daily? Awesome to see the province now has a Wellness Guide though! :)

    charlie said...

    Hi BayGirl, and thanks for visiting and commenting!

    Well, that tidbit about antibacterial soaps/liquids is interesting, and worth a further search. Yes, how many household things that people have around by the hundreds are laced with harmful junk that may affect our short-term and long-term health.

    Here are some posts I did in the past about another chemical in plastic bottles that you may have already been aware of - Bisphenol A. And in case you are really bored :), here are some posts on preventative health (the first few posts there are about H1N1, but please scroll down the page for other posts about preventative medicine).

    Thanks again, take care!