Pesticides Harmful Effects on Human Health


Pesticides are chemicals designed to eradicate and control a variety of pests, including rodents, weeds, fungi and insects that can damage crops or livestock. After WWII the first widely used pesticide was created,  Dichloro-Diphenyl-Trichloroethane (DDT). Deemed as a non-toxic and inexpensive solution, DDT seemed like a wonderful tool for killing a wide range of insects and controlling malaria outbreaks. Only after the early 1960s did DDT receive a backlash, after the publication of “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson. Although Carsen’s work was first dismissed by much of the scientific community, tests were eventually conducted that determined her statements about the health risks of DDT were in fact conclusive. DDT was linked to internal organ damage, infertility, miscarriages and cancer, even though it was first believed to have no harmful effects on humans.

In 2001, DDT was banned from worldwide use, except in certain areas of Africa to combat malaria. New chemical pesticides have been created to replace DDT with safe levels of toxicity approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA ) and then monitored by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). These products are only tested for short-term effects, which might prove to be a problem in the long-run. Although the use of DDT was prohibited for decades, the long-term effects remained, and the chemical was linked to breast cancer with traces of the chemical found in the blood of those exposed to it.

Pesticides used today commonly display acute toxicity, such as skin irritation, nausea and headaches. According to some reports, excessive use of these “regulated” pesticides damages the environmental ecosystem, harming beneficial insect species (bees), damaging soil and polluting the air. Studies show that using large amounts of pesticides can create pests and weeds resistant to these chemicals, resulting in an increased use of pesticides. Water pollution is also a key issue, with residential gardeners using pesticides in immoderate amounts.  Studies have shown that there are high toxic levels of pesticides in storm drains leading to the ocean and affecting aquatic life. Better understanding of proper management and use of these home herbicides could make a significant difference in the health of the environment.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has completed tests on humans exposed to these chemicals, finding remains of chemical breakdowns in blood and urine, with toxicity levels that exceeded EPA government safety standards. One of the larger risks involves children and pregnant women and those with immune systems not yet fully developed. Some studies indicate that exposure to these chemicals can create hormonal and reproductive disorders, impaired development, autism and possibly cancer in the future. Even with all these present issues outlined, the EPA still claims that the benefits outweigh the risks.

With many health conscious people opting out and switching to organic products, it is important to clear up a few misconceptions. There is no sure-fire guarantee that “organic” produce is truly pesticide free because, although not always, chemical pesticides are still used to protect crops. Organic pesticides are created with natural chemicals, but this does not necessarily mean that they are free from the harmful effects to the human body that regular synthetic pesticides pose. Purchasing locally grown crops and washing fruits and vegetables before consuming are great methods to avoid unnecessary consumption of these chemicals.

By Obeydah Chavez



Oregon State

Sustainable Table

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