Understanding Pollution: The True Impact of Pesticides

Download a printer friendly version of this article here.

Pesticides are a chemical that is designed to kill insects, and it is doing its job; sadly it is wiping out entire populations of animals and insects, and its effects on human health are quite severe as well.[i]   Pesticides are quite common, and you most likely have some in your home unless you buy only organically grown food. All food, unless it´s organically grown, is sprayed with pesticides, meaning that most fruit or vegetables you have are covered with a layer of pesticides which does not go away after a quick rinse. Apples, lettuce, potatoes and strawberries are some of the foods with the highest pesticide content.  Imagine spraying your food with insect spray before eating, that’s kind of what it´s like.  Also, if you’re a pet owner and your dog or cat has a flea collar, or you use bug spray you are using a pesticide.[ii] Every year, 1 billion pounds of pesticides are used in the United States alone, and 5.6 billion pounds are used worldwide; and it is estimated that worldwide 25 million agricultural workers are poisoned a year.[iii]  Pesticides are damaging not just human health, but are wiping out entire species.

Pesticides 1

Pesticides, for all of their supposed benefits to humanity, are made of extremely dangerous chemicals that have debilitating effects on humans.  In the United States alone 67000 people a year are hospitalized, and 27 die a year from pesticide poisoning.[iv]  There are three stages of pesticide poisoning, and they include Mild, Moderate, and Severe.[v]  Symptoms of mild pesticide poison are irritation of the nose, throat, eyes or skin, a headache, dizziness, a loss of appetite, thirst, nausea, diarrhea, sweating, a feeling of weakness or fatigue, a sense of restlessness and nervousness, unexplained changes in mood, and insomnia.[vi]  Those, as mentioned previously, are the MILD effects.  It’s quite a list, and things only get worse I’m afraid.  Moderate pesticide poisoning includes such effects as vomiting, excessive salivation, coughing, a feeling of constriction in the throat and chest, cramps in your abdomen, a blurring of your vision, rapidly increased pulse, excessive sweating, trembling throughout your body, a loss of muscle coordination, becoming confused, and a sense of extreme weakness throughout your body.[vii]  Still, we are not done. The severe effects of pesticides are an inability to breathe, a buildup of excessive mucous in your air passageways, pinpoint pupils, the appearance of chemicals burns on your skin, an increased rate of breathing, a loss of reflexes, the twitching of your muscles, unconsciousness, and ultimately, death.[viii]  The above effects are just the noticeable effects of pesticide poisoning.  Other, long term effects include an increased rate of cancer, the possibility of birth defects, the chance of damage to your genetic code, liver failure, and injury to the reproductive systems including sterility, and nerve damage.[ix]  We use pesticides in our yards, parks, and on our food supply…I’m beginning to wonder if that’s a good idea.

Pesticides 3

Pesticides effects on animal wildlife are even worse than those on humans, at least in terms of the long term effects on animal populations, and some 7 out of 10 biologists believe that we are in the middle of a great extinction of animals, partly due to pesticides.[x]  One of the most common pesticides in known as Atrazine, and more than 75 million pounds of it are used every year on farms in the United States.[xi]  Atrazine it is having a devastating effect on frog populations.  Did you ever see Jurassic Park?  In the movie they use frog DNA to complete the genetic chain of the dinosaurs.  All of the dinosaurs in the park were supposed to be female, but because of the frog DNA the dinosaurs were able to change their sex into males.  Well, atrazine is forcing a similar change on frogs; except atrazine is really making many of the frogs turn into females, and this is obviously having an effect on their population size.[xii]  Atrazine is banned in Switzerland, and the Environmental Protection Agency is currently conducting a review of the pesticide.[xiii]  You may be thinking, so what they’re frogs.  Well, frogs, like every other animal, have an effect on their ecosystems.  With the decline of the frog population the level of algae in rivers and streams is rising, and this is impacting the other organisms who call those rivers and streams home.[xiv]

Pesticides 2

Another animal species that is being devastated by pesticides is honey bees.  Since 2006 bee populations have fallen roughly 30% a year, and while scientists are still trying to figure out exactly what is causing this death rate, many are convinced that pesticides are, at least partly, to blame.[xv]  In fact, certain countries such as France, Germany, and Italy have banned what are called neonicotinoids, a pesticide which is less harmful to animals, but more harmful to insects than regular pesticides.[xvi]  Bees in those countries are beginning to recover to some extent.  Now, I’m not personally a fan of bees, but they are the great pollinators.  Roughly 1/3 of all food grown worldwide relies upon bees to pollinate.[xvii]  Just a sample of some of the foods and other products that bees are essential for include peaches, apples, strawberries, onions, cherries, coffee, cotton, vanilla, and cocoa.[xviii]  Needless to say, bees are a very important part of the ecosystem, our food supply, and since food is sold, the world’s economy.  30% of the population a year dying means that something is seriously wrong, and if we don’t want to lose our apples, chocolate, coffee, and many other foods then we need to do something.

Pesticides are used primarily to protect our crops from insects and other pests as they grow.  It’s a commendable goal as our food supply is very important, and insects have been known to devastate crops in the past.  However, sometimes the solution to a problem causes more and bigger problems that what it was trying to solve.  That is the case with pesticides, but its use will not stop without more of a push.  As long as people are not complaining what reason do agricultural firms have to stop the use of pesticides?  Not much.  People need to be informed about what is being done to, and for, their food supply.  We don’t live in a perfect world, and problems will always exist.  Are insects a threat to crops?  Yes, but that doesn’t mean that insects don’t serve a purpose as is the case with bees.  Without bees there are many crops that we wouldn’t have.  The solution to the problem presented by pesticides will not be an easy one to find, but if people inform themselves, and if people show that they are concerned then change is possible.


If you liked this article and would like to receive more, be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter.


About the Author

Dom resizeDominick Principe is a graduate of Rowan University with dual Bachelor Degrees in Elementary Education and Writing Arts.  He is a prolific reader who devours any book put before him, and feels that life is one great long book without an end.  He fills his hours constantly exploring new information, and seeking to educate himself in the ways of the world.  He puts all of that knowledge and his passion for learning to good use teaching English as a second language to students of all ages.  When his nose isn’t buried in a book, or in class teaching, then he can generally be found typing away at his computer working on some random piece of writing that he was inspired to do.


[i] “Learn About Chemicals Around Your House.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 30 Nov. 2014. <http://www.epa.gov/kidshometour/pest.htm&gt;.

[ii] “Learn About Chemicals Around Your House.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 30 Nov. 2014. <http://www.epa.gov/kidshometour/pest.htm&gt;.

[iii] Pesticides Use and Exposure Extensive Worldwide. Web. 30 Nov. 2014. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2946087/&gt;.

[iv] “Public Health Risks Associated with Pesticides and Natural Toxins in Foods.” Radcliffe’s IPM World Textbook. Web. 30 Nov. 2014. <http://ipmworld.umn.edu/chapters/pimentel.htm&gt;.

[v] “What Kinds of Health Effects Are Associated with Pesticides?” Pesticides. Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. Web. 30 Nov. 2014. <http://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/chemicals/pesticides/health_effects.html&gt;.

[vi] “What Kinds of Health Effects Are Associated with Pesticides?” Pesticides. Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. Web. 30 Nov. 2014. <http://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/chemicals/pesticides/health_effects.html&gt;.

[vii] “What Kinds of Health Effects Are Associated with Pesticides?” Pesticides. Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. Web. 30 Nov. 2014. <http://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/chemicals/pesticides/health_effects.html&gt;.

[viii] “What Kinds of Health Effects Are Associated with Pesticides?” Pesticides. Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. Web. 30 Nov. 2014. <http://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/chemicals/pesticides/health_effects.html&gt;.

[ix] “FAQs – Signs & Symptoms of Pesticide Poisoning.” FAQs – Signs & Symptoms of Pesticide Poisoning. Web. 30 Nov. 2014. <http://www.headlice.org/faq/treatments/signs-symptoms.htm&gt;.

[x] “Environmental Impacts.” Pesticide Action Network. Web. 30 Nov. 2014. <http://www.panna.org/issues/persistent-poisons/environmental-impacts&gt;.

[xi] “Atrazine Updates.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 30 Nov. 2014. <http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/reregistration/atrazine/atrazine_update.htm&gt;.

[xii] “Environmental Impacts.” Pesticide Action Network. Web. 30 Nov. 2014. <http://www.panna.org/issues/persistent-poisons/environmental-impacts&gt;.

[xiii] “Environmental Impacts.” Pesticide Action Network. Web. 30 Nov. 2014. <http://www.panna.org/issues/persistent-poisons/environmental-impacts&gt;.

[xiv] “UGA Today.” UGA Study Reveals Ecosystem-level Consequences of Frog Extinctions. Web. 30 Nov. 2014. <http://news.uga.edu/releases/article/uga-study-reveals-ecosystem-level-consequences-of-frog-extinctions/&gt;.

[xv] “Environmental Impacts.” Pesticide Action Network. Web. 30 Nov. 2014. <http://www.panna.org/issues/persistent-poisons/environmental-impacts&gt;.

[xvi] “Environmental Impacts.” Pesticide Action Network. Web. 30 Nov. 2014. <http://www.panna.org/issues/persistent-poisons/environmental-impacts&gt;.

[xvii] “Environmental Impacts.” Pesticide Action Network. Web. 30 Nov. 2014. <http://www.panna.org/issues/persistent-poisons/environmental-impacts&gt;.

[xviii] “List of Foods We Will Lose If We Don’t Save the Bees.” Natural Society. Web. 30 Nov. 2014. <http://naturalsociety.com/list-of-foods-we-will-lose-if-we-dont-save-the-bees/&gt;.

Advertisements

Understanding Pollution: Are We in Danger of Famine?

Download a printer friendly version of this article here.

When looking at history there is one thing that allowed mankind to stop their nomadic lifestyle, and begin to construct civilization as we know it.  That is agriculture.  A reliable and steady food supply has allowed us to construct cities, build wonders that will endure for centuries, and even reach for the stars themselves.  Without that consistent food supply man would never have experienced such a population boom that made us the dominant animal on this planet.  Yet despite the importance of agriculture to our successes, we are allowing our food supply to be placed in danger by pollution.  The most dangerous threats to our food supply come from air pollution, water pollution, and global warming.

polluted food supply 1

Air is everywhere, and thus whatever is in the air affects everything. One of the biggest dangers to agriculture from air pollution is ozone.  Ozone is the main component of smog that is created by the burning of fossil fuels.[i]  Ozone can have varying effects on agriculture.  To begin with ozone is absorbed by crops through the undersides of leaves, and cause a loss of color, molting, bronzing, and/or stunted growth of the plant.[ii]  Here’s where things get complicated.  Ozone can cause both visible injury to plants, and reduce the size of the crop as a whole, or it can cause no visible injury while still reducing the cop size, or visible injury but without reducing the crop size.[iii]  Ozone damage is simply one factor.  You must also consider the type of plant, and other environmental effects that are acting at a given time.  Another air pollutant dangerous to agriculture is fluoride.  Fluoride can be absorbed by plants through the tips of their leaves, but that is not where damage is visible.  The damage is done to the youngest leaves on the plant, and it can drastically effect the size of the plant.[iv]  Needless to say, there are entirely too many air pollutants to list all of them, and their effects on every type of agricultural crop out there.  As long as the air that humans, plants, and other animals rely on is polluted there will continue to be a growing number of consequences.

polluted food supply 2

Water is vital to every organism on this planet.  It should come as no surprise to anyone that water affects agriculture from the time a seed is planted until it enters our mouths.  Fruits and vegetables come into contact with water throughout their, for lack of a better word, lives.  To begin with irrigation is used to water crops as they are grown.  If the water used in irrigation is contaminated then that contaminant is being absorbed by the crops along with the water.  Fresh water can be contaminated by heavy metals, dirt and rocks, chemicals, and industrial pollutants.  Some of the heavy metals that are commonly found in fresh water are arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, nickel, lead and mercury.[v]  I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure I don’t want to eat anything that has absorbed lead, which has been linked to neurological impairment in children, let alone all of the other chemicals.[vi]  Just a few more examples are Cadmium which weakens your bones, can cause kidney damage, and even lead to death in high enough levels.[vii]  Then there is arsenic which has been linked to several forms of cancer.[viii]  Aside from metals you also have different chemicals that are either dumped into water, or found there naturally.  Think of the pesticides that are used on lawns, and then carried off into the nearest water supply when it rains, or the chemicals that people use to wash their cars.  Then think about the chemicals from industrial plants, runoff water from manure, and runoff from septic systems.[ix]  All of those chemicals end up in our water supply.  Water is connected to literally everything, and because of that literally anything can find its way into our water supply which then goes on to water the crops upon which we rely for food.

polluted food supply 3

There is another effect that pollution is causing that is effecting our water supply, and that is global warming.  I won’t go fully into the whys and wherefores of global warming here, as that has been covered in another article, but global warming’s effect on agriculture must be mentioned.  As mentioned earlier crop growth relies upon a variety of factors in order to produce the optimal sized crop, and one of the most important factors is the weather.  Global warming is beginning to alter weather patterns around the globe.[x]  Since certain crops do better in different environments if the weather of that environment changes it will have an impact on the crops grown there.  Desertification is the most obviously severe examples of this.  Desertification is occurring as global warming is drying up water supplies, and literally turning once arable land into deserts.[xi]  This is obviously effecting what can and cannot be grown in a given area, since many crops cannot be grown in a desert environment. Another problem is that the majority of Americans are predominantly meat eaters, and a significantly larger area is required to raise crops that feed the livestock used for food. It is estimated that about 800 million people in the US could be fed with the grain required to feed the animals we eventually eat.[xii] That is only the most extreme example, and while it is true that some crops will be able to adapt to changing climate, it is estimated that by the middle of the century most crops will have reached their capacity for adaptation.[xiii]  What that means is that although we shouldn’t have to worry about our food supply too much for the next fifty years, we might have some serious problems in a few decades.  For those of us who are under thirty that means that we will definitely run into problems at the latest by the time we’re ready to retire.  Do you really want to spend your retirement worrying about if you’ll have enough food?  I don’t, which means that something must be done now to ensure that doesn’t happen.

Agriculture is probably one of the greatest innovations that ever happened to the human race.  It allowed us to move out of our nomadic lifestyle and to develop science, art, music, philosophy, literature, and other technologies and forms of leisure because we didn’t have to worry about literally running down enough food to keep us from starvation.  For the past couple millennia we have relied upon agriculture to allow us to explore the world around us, as well as our own minds, and other planets.  Can we really allow the advancements of the new generations turn our food from nourishment and medicine into poison?  I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I could run down a gazelle for its meat, and while picking berries can be fun, I would need a lot of berries to feed my family.  Plus, if technology continues to advance and feed pollution, will the berries be safe to eat and will there even be gazelles left?  We have to do something if we are to continue to enjoy living the lives that we want.


If you liked this article and would like to receive more, be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter.


About the Author

Dom resizeDominick Principe is a graduate of Rowan University with dual Bachelor Degrees in Elementary Education and Writing Arts.  He is a prolific reader who devours any book put before him, and feels that life is one great long book without an end.  He fills his hours constantly exploring new information, and seeking to educate himself in the ways of the world.  He puts all of that knowledge and his passion for learning to good use teaching English as a second language to students of all ages.  When his nose isn’t buried in a book, or in class teaching, then he can generally be found typing away at his computer working on some random piece of writing that he was inspired to do.


[i] “Effects of Air Pollution on Agricultural Crops.” Effects of Air Pollution on Agricultural Crops. Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs. Web. 14 Nov. 2014. <http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/crops/facts/01-015.htm&gt;.

[ii] “The Effects of Air Pollution on Agricultural Crops.” Home Guides. San Francisco Gate. Web. 14 Nov. 2014. <http://homeguides.sfgate.com/effects-air-pollution-agricultural-crops-79226.html&gt;.

[iii] “The Effects of Air Pollution on Agricultural Crops.” Home Guides. San Francisco Gate. Web. 14 Nov. 2014. <http://homeguides.sfgate.com/effects-air-pollution-agricultural-crops-79226.html&gt;.

[iv] “Effects of Air Pollution on Agricultural Crops.” Effects of Air Pollution on Agricultural Crops. Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs. Web. 14 Nov. 2014. <http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/crops/facts/01-015.htm&gt;.

[v] “Metals in Aquatic Freshwater.” Metals Occuring in Aquatic Freshwater. Web. 14 Nov. 2014. <http://www.lenntech.com/aquatic/metals.htm&gt;.

[vi] “Human Health and Lead.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 14 Nov. 2014. <http://www.epa.gov/superfund/lead/health.htm&gt;.

[vii] “Department of Medicine.” Cadmium Toxicity. NYU Langone Medical Center. Web. 2 Dec. 2014. <http://medicine.med.nyu.edu/conditions-we-treat/conditions/cadmium-toxicity&gt;.

[viii] “Arsenic.” Arsenic. Web. 2 Dec. 2014. <http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancercauses/othercarcinogens/intheworkplace/arsenic&gt;.

[ix] “Pollutants » Explore More: Water Quality.” Pollutants » Explore More: Water Quality. Web. 14 Nov. 2014. <http://www.iptv.org/exploremore/water/pollutants/pollutants.cfm&gt;.

[x] “Effects of Climate Change on Agriculture | Climate Education Modules for K-12.” Effects of Climate Change on Agriculture | Climate Education Modules for K-12. Web. 14 Nov. 2014. <http://www.nc-climate.ncsu.edu/edu/k12/ClimateChange-Ag&gt;.

[xi] “Desertification.” World Preservation Foundation. World Preservation Foundation. Web. 14 Nov. 2014. <http://www.worldpreservationfoundation.org/topic.php?cat=climateChange&vid=23#.VGYlPfmUdg8&gt;.

[xii] “U.S. Could Feed 800 Million People with Grain That Livestock Eat, Cornell Ecologist Advises Animal Scientists | Cornell Chronicle.” U.S. Could Feed 800 Million People with Grain That Livestock Eat, Cornell Ecologist Advises Animal Scientists | Cornell Chronicle. Web. 19 Nov. 2014. <http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/1997/08/us-could-feed-800-million-people-grain-livestock-eat&gt;.

[xiii] “Report: Climate Change Could Devastate Agriculture.” USA Today. USA Today. Web. 14 Nov. 2014. <http://www.usdahttp://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/02/05/climate-change-agriculture-study/1893455/.gov/oce/climate_change/effects_2012/CC and Agriculture Report (02-04-2013)b.pdf>.