Pesticides are chemical compounds or biological agents that are used for the control of undesirable plants (herbicides), insects (insecticides) or fungi (fungicides).
There are many types of synthetic pesticides. The main classes consist of carbamates, organophosphates , organochlorines and pyrethroids. Carbamates and organophosphates affect the central nervous system. Organochlorines affect the reproductive, nervous, endocrine and immune system. The effects of pyrethroids are still unclear. Increasingly more insects and plants are becoming resistant to certain types of pesticides. Because of these so called superbugs and superweeds, farmers have to either increase the amount of pesticides they apply or use more toxic pesticides.
Regular farmers rely heavily on synthetic pesticides. The chemicals these pesticides contain are dangerous to the environment and to our health. They destroy wildlife, pose risks to the people that apply them as well as bystanders and leave chemical residues in our food.
Pesticide exposure can cause both short-term (acute) and long-term (chronic) health problems for animals and humans. Studies have shown strong associations between chemical pesticides and health problems, including fertility problems, birth defects, brain tumors, breast cancer, prostate cancer, brain cancer, childhood leukemia, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Children and young animals are especially vulnerable to the toxic effects of pesticides. Their bodies, brains, nervous, immune and reproductive systems are developing and their detoxification systems are either immature or not yet functional.
The World Health Organization estimates that 200,000 people are killed worldwide each year as a direct result of pesticide poisoning. In 1990, that number was 30,000. They also estimate that 3 million people are poisoned each year, a large number of them are children. A study in England and Wales showed that 50% of pesticide poisoning involved children under the age of 10.
Pesticide Residues in Vegetables and Fruits
When pesticides are sprayed over crops, residues can remain on the plants after they are harvested. These residues can cause acute and long-term toxic effects in human beings and animals.
What follows is a list of fresh fruits and vegetables which rate consistently either highest or lowest in pesticide residues.
Pesticides which are sprayed can become airborne and eventually end up in soil or water. Pesticides that are applied directly to the soil can be washed off into water or can percolate through the soil into the groundwater, a major source of our drinking water. These pesticides are broken down or degraded by the action of sunlight, water, other chemicals or microorganisms. This degradation process often leads to the formation of less harmful residue, but can sometimes produce more toxic products. It is also possible for a pesticide to become resistant to degradation by any means and therefore remain unchanged in the environment for long periods of time. These are called persistent pesticides.
The properties of a pesticide determine its behavior. Pesticides that evaporate easily have the greatest potential to go into the atmosphere. Pesticides that are very soluble in water will seep easily through the soil and are potential groundwater contaminants. They also tend to stay in the water longer and harm fish and other organisms. Pesticides that are insoluble in water usually stick to the soil and settle to the bottoms of bodies of water.
Pesticides can be stored in living organisms and accumulate over time. The levels of a pesticide which accumulates in a fish for instance can be hundreds of thousands of times greater than the level of the pesticide in the water where the animal lives. This type of accumulation is called bioaccumulation. The higher a given species is on the food chain, the greater it is at risk to be harmed by pesticides. An example of this problem is the population decline of fish-eating birds by both reproductive failure and the thinning of the eggshells as a result of organochlorine pesticides. Humans which eat animal-based food are also at risk to be exposed to bioaccumulated pesticides.
Wildlife is exposed to pesticides by eating contaminated food or water, breathing pesticide spray or absorbing pesticides through their skin. Predators can become poisoned by eating animals that have been exposed to pesticides. Many insecticides affect the nervous system of wildlife, which can interfere with their ability to survive or reproduce. Pesticides can also pass through the placenta or affect the eggs of birds or reptiles, which causes impairments or defects that appear later in life. Herbicides, used to kill weeds, affect plants that are important to the survival of wildlife. Fish, amphibians and aquatic insects are especially susceptible to pesticide contamination of water. This also affects animals like ducklings who are dependent on these creatures to survive.
The conventional cotton industry is one of the agriculture's most environmentally destructive industries. This industry takes an enormous toll on our air, water and soil. It also causes many health risks for people living close to cotton growing areas.
Organic cotton is a good alternative. Other great alternatives are hemp and bamboo. They are both resistant to insects and need no pesticides for cultivation. Hemp is one of the strongest natural fibers, which produces three times more fiber per acre than cotton plants. Bamboo is one of the fastest growing plants in the world. Its pulp creates a fiber which is both strong and really soft, softer even than cotton.
Please check out the "Good Companies" page of my Sweatshop pages, which includes a lot of companies that sell hemp, bamboo and organically produced cotton clothing items.
For more information, please check out the Sources and Resources page.
application by Doug Wilson, USDA public domain.
Copyright © 2004 by Wanda Embar. All Rights Reserved.