As gardening season is now in full swing, and you are wondering how to keep pesky weeds and bugs from invading your harvest before you can enjoy it, I’m writing to have you think twice before grabbing pesticides. Yes, they stop the weeds and kill the bugs, but at what cost to your health?
Pesticides were created to increase the yield of fruits, vegetables, and other crops by eliminating their common predators. They are chemicals and they are not limited to one specific name. Because there are many kinds of pests, there are many kinds of pesticides.
Fungicides: Important for protecting harvested crops and seeds from fungal rot.
Insecticides: Reduce destruction and contamination of growing and harvested crops by insects and their eggs.
Herbicides: Weed killers used to improve crop yields.
Rodenticides: Important for controlling destruction and contamination of crops by vermin and rodent-borne diseases.
While these chemicals do yield more crops, they also leave a layer of pesticide residue on every crop harvested. This residue is then included as the crops are processed into ‘shelf-life items’ or transported to the stores in which you purchase them from. Yes, this includes your backyard garden crops and those found at your local farmer’s markets.
Pesticides can enter the body:
- through the skin (dermal),
- through the lungs (inhalation)
- by mouth (ingestion)
Because pesticides are placed on the ground, any rain water can potentially transfer them to the nearest waterway and supply them to your general water exposure. This means that you could be showering and cooking with water contaminated with pesticides. It pairs well with the food coated in the chemicals, doesn’t it? It’s quite scary.
Current agricultural practices include the wide production and extensive use of chemicals known for their ability to cause negative health effects in humans and wildlife and to degrade the natural environment.
It is important to understand that there are two types of pesticides: Synthetic and Organic. While organic is generally a label that you should reach for, know that organic pesticides are still pesticides. “Natural” does not mean “non-toxic;” organic pesticides can also be harmful to your health and the environment. Organic refers to specialized kinds of pesticides that occur in nature and are used instead of synthetic pesticides, which are produced in a laboratory. Both types of pesticides can be created with low-volumes of toxins, but still can impact your health; the organic version, hopefully less so.
Mild Pesticide exposure is linked to:
- irritation of the nose, throat, eyes or skin
- loss of appetite
- weakness or fatigue
- changes in mood
Moderate exposure is linked to the above plus:
- excessive salivation
- feeling of constriction in throat and chest
- abdominal cramps
- blurring of vision
- rapid pulse
- excessive perspiration
- profound weakness
- muscular incoordination
- mental confusion
Severe exposure is linked to the above plus:
- inability to breathe
- extra phlegm or mucous in the airways
- small or pinpoint pupils
- chemical burns on the skin
- increased rate of breathing
- loss of reflexes
- uncontrollable muscular twitching
“Some health effects from pesticide exposure may occur right away, as you are being exposed. Some symptoms may occur several hours after exposure. Other effects may not be noticed for years, for example cancer.”
EPA’s human health risk assessments for many pesticides are available via Chemical Search. Search for the pesticide of interest and look in the regulatory actions or tabs.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women should never handle pesticides, as it can cause birth defects, or be passed through the breastmilk. Round-up has been found in all breastmilk tested for research, and researchers are calling for action to be taken because of the health risks that are going to become unavoidable soon.
What Can You Do?
- Declare your yard a “pesticide free zone” with visible signage. This may allow neighbors to start educating themselves on the dangers in their yard or on their foods.
- Talk with the farmers at your market and ask them about their practices.
- Wash your produce before consuming it.
- Buy organic and still wash it.
- Skip processed foods all together.