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The Dangers of Pesticides

Eric S. Lorenz
Senior extension associate of the Pesticide Education Program.
Penn State Extension 

Published
July 25, 2011

One of my favorite foods in the world has to be a freshly picked apple. Whether I am eating a juicy, red Gala apple, or a green, tart Granny Smith apple, my taste buds explode with the goodness of each bite. Not only are apples delicious, but they are packed with the essential vitamins and minerals that your body needs to stay healthy. As I always say, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” and I believe that is why I have not gotten sick since the 5th grade. Yet, lately I have been pondering over this question: Many fruits, such as apples, are sprayed with pesticides, and if pesticides can kill insects, what are the potential dangers they have on our body and the environment? This prompted me to dedicate a post about the dangers of pesticides, and my research surprised me.

As all of you know, most fruits and vegetables are grown of farms, and on farms, you can expect to find a lot of bugs, some of which have a strong liking for the crops. Farmers can not afford to lose their crops due to pesky little insects, so instead, some farmers spray chemicals, pesticides, on them which repel the insects. Pesticides can also prevent disease from spreading, so using pesticides lowers the risks of losing one’s crop of the season.

Now, some of you may be wondering,”Do organic foods have pesticides?” The answer is yes, but these pesticides come from natural sources, such as certain types of plants, and they do not use synthetic pesticides. Organic farmers also tend to spray less pesticides on their produce than other farmers, and the pesticides are less dangerous for the environment. Also, if a product is certified organic, it has to abide by the national standards.

Not only are pesticides found in farms, but they are found in or around your home, too. Do you use insect repellent in the summer to avoid getting bitten by blood-sucking insects such as mosquitoes? Well, insect repellent has the pesticide DEET in it. If you have a wooden deck on your house, then that probably contains that pesticide Chromated Copper Arsenate, (CCA), which helps in the aid to preserve the wood so it does not rot. Some other common items that contain pesticides are: bleach, certain types of paint, and even a few swimming pool chemicals. If you have a lawn, you might have weed killers, or herbicides, to prevent the growth of weeds. Some pesticides are also used on other animals besides insects, such as unwelcome rodents. (Rodenticides)

Pesticides and the Environment

Even though pesticides are sprayed on land, many times, they can make their way into a water source, such as a river, ocean, or pond. For instance: Pesticides from an orchid may end up in a nearby stream due to runoff. If a body of water becomes contaminated with the chemicals, many fish and other animals may die and get sick. This can throw the whole ecosystem off balance.

Pesticides can also affect groundwater by a process known as leeching. Many people depend on groundwater for their drinking supply, yet, if that water has pesticides in it, it is unsanitary and harmful for the people to drink.

Another way pesticides can spread and cause potential harm is by volatilization. Volatilization occurs when a pesticide turns into a gas or vapor after it has been sprayed, allowing it to travel through the air and spread to different pieces of land. (Vapor Drift) This can be harmful for wildlife, such as frogs. Some scientists even believe that the pesticide, atrazine, causes reproductive problems in the frogs that affect the frog’s biological goal, which is to survive to reproduce.

So why are pesticides so harmful to people’s health?

Not only are pesticides dangerous to the environment, but they are also hazardous to a person’s health. Pesticides are stored in your colon, where they slowly but surely poison the body. You may not realize this, but when you are eating a non-organic apple, you are also eating over 30 different pesticides that have been sprayed on the apple. Even if you wash a piece of fruit, such as an apple, there are still many pesticides lingering on it and they could have seeped into the fruit or vegetable. Strawberries, apples, carrots, celery, spinach, grapes, apples, cucumbers are just a few types of food that you should not eat if they are not organic because the pesticide level is the highest on them.

After countless studies, pesticides have been linked to cancer, Alzheimer’s Disease, ADHD, and even birth defects. Pesticides also have the potential to harm the nervous system, the reproductive system, and the endocrine system. Pesticides can even be very harmful to fetuses because the chemicals can pass from the mother during pregnancy or if a woman nurses her child. Although one piece of fruit with pesticides won’t kill you, if they build up in your body, they can be potentially detrimental to your health and should be avoided as much as possible.

Now that you are informed about pesticides, it is up to you to make the healthy choices that will lead you, your friends, and your family to a healthier lifestyle. In order to avoid as many pesticides as possible, I grow my own fruits and vegetables in my backyard. By doing this, I know that my food is not being sprayed with chemicals, and it tastes a lot fresher.

For pesticide safety tips, visit the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s website and if you have any questions pertaining to pesticides, feel free to ask them in the comment box.

Pictures Credits:

Stink Bug- Allan Hack (via Flickr)

Pesticide sign: jetsandzeppelins (via Flickr)

Sources:

“Cancer Trends Progress Report-2009-2010 Update” National Cancer Institute April 15, 2010

“Chromated Copper Arsenate (CCA)” United States Environmental Protection Agency November 2008

“Organic Production/Organic Food: Information Access Tools” United States Department of Agriculture June 2007

“Pesticide Atrazine Can Turn Male Frogs into Females” Science Daily March 1, 2010

“Pesticides Exposure During Pregnancy” American Pregnancy Association March 2007

“Pesticide issues in the works: pesticide volatilization” United States Environmental Protection Agency December 2009

“Pesticides may Raise Alzheimer’s Risk” WebMD

“Study: A link between pesticides and ADHD” Time Magazine May 17, 2010

“The Dangers of Pesticides” Global Healing Center”

“The Insect Repellent DEET” United States Environmental Protection Agency March 27, 2007

“What happens to Pesticides” British Columbia