Insects, diseases, and other pests are well-known to cause serious human health problems and to decimate food crops. Mosquitoes, fleas, and ticks can transmit serious diseases to humans, such as malaria, bubonic plaque, and Lyme disease. Aphids, beetles, borers, root maggots, slugs, and white flies can devastate home gardens, and lawns are commonly destroyed by both invading weeds and insects. Many homeowners turn to chemical pesticides to protect their gardens, lawns, and themselves from these pests, and farmers commonly use copious amounts of pesticides and herbicides to produce their crops.
Negative Health Implications of Pesticides
In simple terms, pesticides are poisons that act to kill pests. Unfortunately, exposure to these poisons can also affect adult humans, children, and pets like cats and dogs. Broadly speaking, possible negative health implications can be broken down into acute and chronic effects of pesticide exposure on health. Acute effects occur immediately after a single exposure and can include:
- Respiratory and eye irritation
- Nausea and vomiting
- Severe headache
- Loss of consciousness
Chronic health effects are more common than acute effects and occur due to repeated exposure to a pesticide over time. Chronic effects vary by the type of pesticide, but may include cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, depression, and ADHD. Some pesticides act like endocrine disruptors, causing low sperm counts and early puberty, and may increase the risk of developing obesity, diabetes, breast cancer, and ovarian cysts.
The paraquat pesticide is a commonly used chemical that is applied to kill unwanted weeds. The CDC considers it to be so toxic that only licensed individuals can purchase it and apply it in the US, and it has been banned entirely in the EU. Although it is banned for residential use in the US, it is widely used in farming, and vegetables, fruits, and water sources can become contaminated with it.
Paraquat is toxic by ingestion, inhalation, and skin exposure. Acute exposure to paraquat can cause serious respiratory distress, seizures, permanent organ damage, and death, but acute exposure generally only occurs during application of the chemical. Chronic exposure may cause lung and other organ damage, and in utero exposure may cause low birth weights. A number of lawsuits have been filed claiming that cases of Parkinson’s have been caused by chronic paraquat exposure. Scientists believe that it causes Parkinson’s by killing brain cells via increased oxidative stress.
How to Avoid Pesticide Exposure
It is fairly easy to avoid using pesticides at home and in the garden. For example, diatomaceous earth is a non-toxic pest killer than can be used in the house and the garden. Vinegar can kill weeds, and diluted dish soap can kill pests on plants.
An easy way to avoid consuming contaminated produce is to buy organic. Buying organic also encourages farmers to find ways to grow crops without using copious amounts of potentially toxic and environmentally damaging chemicals. However, many people are put off by the higher price of organic produce. The extra cost can in part be reduced by buying only in-season fresh locally produced organic products, and the long-term savings in improved health are priceless.