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The Dangers of Pesticide Exposure - Go Organic Instead

Updated on October 3, 2009

This is the second in a Hub Series on Organic Gardening at home.  Anyone can do it, and I will show you how!  In this Hub we take a look at the health hazards of using some of the more common pesticides and herbicides on your lawn, shrubs, flowers, trees, and most importantly - your food plants.

Pesticide Exposure is Dangerous

There is no question that exposure to toxic pesticides is harmful to humans and pets. Think about it, synthetic pesticides are laboratory created chemicals designed to kill the most hardy of all life forms on the planet - insects. Did you know that when scientists examined the atomic bomb tests sites in Nevada and New Mexico, all life forms (plants, livestock, fish, birds) EXCEPT insects had been killed! And keep in mind, that all of the chemical that you might otherwise put into your gardens goes back in the water cycle at some point, contaminating the ground water, streams, rivers, lakes, and eventually the oceans.

Many communities worldwide have banned the widespread use of harmful synthetic chemicals for food crops. The most famous was DDT. DDT was first synthesized in 1874, its insecticide properties were not discovered until 1939.

it was used with great effect in WWII to control mosquitoes spreading malaria and lice transmitting typhus among civilians and troops in Asia, resulting in dramatic reductions in the incidence of both diseases. Soon,  this pesticide was made available for use as an agricultural insecticide, and soon its production and use skyrocketed. DDT was widely sprayed of food crops in the United States, even when workers were in the fields.

I clearly recall sitting with my family at the edge of the fields in Phoenix, Arizona as a child and watching the crop dusters fly in really low and spray the fields. I can still recall the smell of the DDT cloud as the dusters went overhead. I often wonder if the cloud affected our health: my sister suffered from asthma, and has had skin cancer. Both of my parents had cancer; my mother survived, but, my father was taken by it. I have been plagued by immune system problems and fibromyalgia. Who knows if these and so many other troubles people in spray areas live with could be the results of the spray.  But, in 1972 the U.S. banned the use of DDT due to its toxicity in animal life and suspected cancer causing effects.

Field workers in California work with the Crop Duster spaying pesticides before the DDT ban.
Field workers in California work with the Crop Duster spaying pesticides before the DDT ban.
Resmethrin being sprayed in Pennsylvania 2008.  Resmethrin is a type of pyrethroid insecticide.
Resmethrin being sprayed in Pennsylvania 2008. Resmethrin is a type of pyrethroid insecticide.

Health concerns related to synthetic pesticide use have been well documented.

  • The Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, found a greater incidence of breast cancer  in women who regularly used common home and garden pesticides.
  • Many pesticides have an impact on the brain and central nervous system. Researchers at the University of Chicago, found a link between the use of pesticides and increased levels of anxiety, difficulty concentrating, memory problems, and personality changes.
  • University of Chicago researchers also linked pesticide exposure to many reproductive problems, including birth defects, stillbirth, miscarriage, and infertility have.
  •  According to the American Journal of Public Health, children who played in yards sprayed with insecticides and herbicides had a four times higher risk of certain cancers, including  soft tissue sarcomas and malignant tumors of the connective tissue. This study looked at  children from birth to fourteen years old.
  • In a study at the Mayo Clinic, men diagnosed with Parkinson's were 2.4 times more likely to have been exposed to pesticides than men who didn't have Parkinson's.
  • According to the March of Dimes, pesticide exposure during pregnancy, has been found to increase the risk of oral clefts, neural tube defects, heart defects, and limb defects. The risks are greatest early in the pregnancy, the first trimester, when many women don’t yet know they are pregnant. 
  • Although not as much study has been done on the effects of herbicides, thousands of G.I.s and civilians  were exposed to Agent Orange in the Vietnam War from 1962 -1971. the Veteran's Administration  has recognized certain cancers and other health problems as associated with exposure to Agent Orange, including mental health issues and a variety of chronic disease.

What now?

While we can not say for sure what all of the harmful effects of the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides,and fertilizers may be, one this can be known for certain:

If you can use natural means they should be used! They are inexpensive, and readily available.  So why don't all farmers and gardeners us organic methods? Simple... crop yields are higher and product looks more "perfect" with the use of the chemicals.  Organic farmers and home gardeners know the a small percentage of the crop will be sacrificed to the natural world - birds, insects, other critters; and not all of the produce will look smooth, and "perfect" - some with have spots or blemishes.  These do not take away from the taste or nutrient value, but organic produce does not always look quite as nice as the other commercial stuff. 

So, I guess you need to ask your self "Is is so important to me to have perfect looking produce and risk the horrid health effects of these chemicals? Or, am I prepared to have better tasting and more nutritional food that just doesn't look as pretty?" 

 Well that's enough for now. I hope this Hub hasn't been to much of a downer... but I am passionate about this!

Upcoming hubs in this series will cover:

  • Why Organically grown food is more nutritious
  • Recipes Home made pesticides and fertilizers
  • Commercially available products for th e home organic gardener

As always, if you enjoyed this topic, please let me know. I am always excited to read comments and questions.  Blessings, and good health!

What do yu think? Help me to write better hubs for you!

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    • profile image

      non-farmer 6 years ago

      Farmers are often not the lands best caretakers. Observation of extreme farming practices has made this fact evident. From destroying natural creeks' environment to arial pesticide spraying shows extreme farming procedures.

      Crop dusting over areas shared with homes, pets & gardens cannot be safe. The pestdicide residue does not only land on the intended crops, overspray lands on these homes, people, pets & gardens.

      Please consider this before purchasing any property bordering farmland. - buyers BEWARE!

    • Judith Rizzo profile image

      Judith Rizzo 7 years ago from Phoenix ~ The Valley of the Sun

      Hey thanks for the request... so sorry to have taken so very long to get back to you on this. I will be posting a new hub this weekend with at least a couple new recipes for you...

    • profile image 7 years ago

      I would like the recipes for homemade pesticides, fungicides and fertilizers. My husband has PD disease and using pesticides etc. is not an option.