Monday, February 18, 2013

People, Pests, and Pesticides

In last week's post I talked about triclosan, which is added to many consumer products to combat germs. In researching the issue, I ran across a couple of interesting sentences. One article said that triclosan was originally developed as a pesticide. Another said that triclosan was added to certain pesticide products. These sentences seemed strange to me, because triclosan IS a pesticide. In the broadest sense of the term, a pesticide is a chemical designed to kill unwanted biological life. defines a pesticide as "a chemical preparation for destroying plant, fungal, or animal pests." The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that triclosan was first registered as a pesticide in 1969.

Because pesticides are specifically designed to kill (which is, of course, what the “cide” suffix means), they are potentially very dangerous. In fact, Zyklon B, the poison used to kill prisoners in the gas chambers of Auschwitz, was a pesticide. A 2009 article in Environmental Health News reported on a study finding that children who live in homes where pesticides are used are twice as likely to develop brain cancer.

Some pesticides are more dangerous than others, but it's important to recognize pesticides in all of their forms. Is a product designed to kill something? If so, it’s probably a pesticide. Pesticide products can target bugs (such as sprays, bug bombs, mothballs, flea collars and lice shampoo), weeds (such as weed killer and weed-control fertilizer products), or pathogens (such as antimicrobial soaps or treated clothing). 

The list of diseases and symptoms related to pesticide exposure is long. The website Beyond Pesticides includes a Pesticide-Induced Diseases Database which provides information linking pesticides to Alzheimer's disease, asthma, birth defects, cancer, diabetes, endocrine disruption, learning and developmental disorders, Parkinson's disease, and reproductive issues, among others. The EPA notes the following health effects from some commonly used pesticides.

  • 2, 4-D is found in over 1,500 pesticide products, is often used on residential lawns, and is frequently found in the dust of homes and other buildings. Studies link it to blood, liver, and kidney toxicity, coughing, a burning sensation in the lungs, loss of muscular coordination, nausea, vomiting, and dizziness.

  • Atrazine is an herbicide often used on golf courses, roadway grasses, and residential lawns, and is frequently found in drinking water. It is an endocrine disruptor with effects on hormones, the central nervous system, and the immune system. Atrazine exposure increases the risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and pre-term delivery and decreased birth weight of newborns.

  • DDVP (Dichlorvos) can be found in flea collars, pest strips, pesticide sprays, and foggers. It affects the brain, plasma, and red blood cells and can cause nausea, anxiousness, restlessness, teary eyes, heavy sweating, and many cancers.

  • Pyrethroids are generally used in lice shampoos, pet flea shampoos, household foggers, and municipal mosquito abatement products. Exposure can cause dizziness, twitching, nervous disorders, skin and respiratory irritation, and immunotoxic effects.

 A quick Internet search or a trip to the library will often yield a natural solution to a pest problem that can be not only magnitudes safer and surprisingly effective, but cheaper as well. The websites Beyond Pesticides and The Best Control are good places to start. Pesticides of all sorts have ruined and even taken lives, and I urge people to take the issue very seriously. For your own sake and the sake of those around you, please stop and research alternatives before using any chemical designed to kill.


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Martha McLaughlin said...

Thanks for your kind words. I do hope more and more people will become aware of the true prevalence and danger of pesticides since ignorance of the issue can have devastating consequences. If we all keep plugging away at education efforts it's bound to have an effect eventually.