Pesticides 101

PESTICIDES 101

With an approximate 247 million year head start on humans, it’s probable we’ve been battling insects from the get-go. And domination over them seems to be our ultimate goal. However, last century made us well aware that exterminating insects leads to the eradication of many others on this planet, including humans. Broad-based pesticide use cannot be sustained much longer. We’ve got to get smarter. We’ve got to put aside chemicals and find more natural ways to limit crop damage. If only.

INDUSTRIAL:

Agricultural pesticide use is actually growing despite strong evidence that it isn’t working. And the chemical industry doesn’t seem to care if products work or not. Chemical companies sell chemicals. Period. They lobby hard to get politicians to trust what they say. And politicians, bribed or not, allow them to go about their business unfettered. Industry derived reports are accepted as accurate while independent reports are dismissed as hippie naysayers disrupting commerce. Scientists are silenced by threats to their jobs or funding.

The word pesticide is an all-encompassing one that incorporates insecticides, fungicides, herbicides, rodenticides and pool/spa sanitisers (microorganisms).

Jon MacNeill wrote in 2017 an article about Canada’s auditor general’s numerous investigations into the government practices of allowing temporary or conditional pesticide registrations by chemical companies without requirement of full data on human, animal and environmental impacts. Canada isn’t alone: actions such as these are being played out by governments around the world.

In 2017, an estimated 6.8 million tonnes of pesticides were used worldwide, most earmarked for the agricultural industry. According to prnewswire.com, the pesticide industry is projected by 2023 to reach $90 billion.

Annually, about 25 million workers of the approximate 1.8 billion that earn a living in agriculture experience accidental pesticide poisoning. Ryan Rifai’s 2017 article highlights a UN report released two months earlier that stated 200,000 agricultural workers around the world die annually due to pesticide exposure.

(Numerous U.S. statistics quoted to the exclusion of most others are for one reason: it’s the only country where data was broken down succinctly by industry, not obfuscated by generalisations or grouping all chemical use (e.g. pharmaceuticals) together as many countries have. These statistics, however, will likely be consistent with other industrialised countries, relative to population.)

David Pimentel and Michael Burgess begin Chapter 2 of their 2014 report Environmental and Economic Costs of the Application of Pesticides Primarily in the United States with a breakdown of how the estimated annual 9.6 billion dollars in collateral damage from pesticide use is distributed: public health,$1.1B; pesticide resistance in pests, $1.5B; crop losses caused by pesticides, $1.4B; bird losses due to pesticides, $2.2B; and groundwater contamination, $2B.

Pimentel and Burgess further state that indirect or economic costs associated with pesticide use such as the examples above need to be included by the chemical industry when addressing the benefits of pesticides. Much like our paycheques: net wage after deductions.

A 2018 news article from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization speaking about the report More people, more food, worse water? A global review of water pollution from agriculture states water pollution from agriculture – not cities or industries – poses serious risks to humans and Earth’s ecosystems. And that farmers and politicians are, at best, underestimating the situation.

Industrial farming is big business and big business is always on the hunt for big profits. One way they do that is by moving farms to developing countries that offer less government restrictions and laxer work standards. This allows the agro-industry to, amongst other economic advantages, use chemicals banned from industrialised countries because of their loss of effectiveness (immunity) and detrimental effects on human and animal life. Chemicals such as organophosphate and carbamate (OPs) (both related to nerve gas and DDT). However, these crops one way or another are then sold to industrialised nations with nary a whisper about what’s on or in them. Who’s fooling who? Are they all fooling us?

Current pesticide darlings are neonicotinoids. They are classified as systemic, meaning they have long-term residual effects versus those that are somehow applied. They’re fed to plants that, in essence, become toxic to any animal that consumes any part of it. And worms that come into contact with the chemicals as they leach through the soil to our groundwater, which messes with the fishes, and so on. Neonicotinoids & Garden Centre Plants offers more about these chemicals and the consequences of them in the garden plants we purchase, even the ones promoted as bee-friendly.

The state of California in 2017 added glyphosate to its list of chemicals linked to cancer, requiring products with that compound carry labels warning buyers about this carcinogenic link. Roundup is one such product. Monsanto lost its appeal to fight this classification. A year later it found itself facing over 5000 law suits from farmers and others with cancer believed to have developed from working with products containing this ingredient.

Glyphosate has ranked #1 since 2001 by a massive margin as the compound most used by the agricultural and commercial industries (#2 for homeowners) according to Donald Atwood and Claire Paisley-Jones’ U.S. EPA report Pesticides Industry Sales and Usage 2008 – 2012 (Tables 3.4 and 3.5, respectively). Little wonder Monsanto fought so hard.

Over 750 products use glyphosate. It’s a non-selective herbicide, which means it will kill just about any plant by disrupting its proteins required to grow. Common names include Accord, Rodeo, Touchdown and Watkins Weedkiller. This one compound is projected to earn companies $8.79B in 2019.

This article about how glyphosates end up in cereals is a disturbing one. How greedy is a farmer who sprays it on mature oat plants to dry them out quicker so they can be harvested sooner?

To close on a more positive note, the detox project.org has developed a certification process for companies that wish to show a commitment to our health and environment by not using any ingredients from sources that contain glyphosates. They will also test your own food, water and hair samples for glyphosate.

RESIDENTIAL:

You might be thinking: that’s big business. Not us. Right? Not really. While the agricultural industry is the biggest consumer of herbicides, insecticides and fungicides (in that order), homeowners are a close second with insecticides then herbicides, leaving industrial/governments a much further down third place.

Dots are being connected by health industries concerning indoor pesticides and childhood brain cancers. Also blood cancers, notably leukemia and lymphoma. Children are more susceptible due their proximity to the ground or floor and the frequent hand-mouth contact.

Table 4.4 of Atwood and Paisley-Jones’ EPA report above (using the 2011 American census) estimated the number of households that used pesticides:

Any pesticides: 88 million
Disinfectants: 66 million
Fungicides: 16 million
Herbicides: 52 million
Insecticides: 82 million
Repellents: 57 million

Quite likely the most popular ingredient in residential pesticides is pyrethroid. It’s the synthetic (chemical) version of pyrethrin, a botanical insecticide from chrysanthemum flowers. Owing to pyrethroid’s overuse, ants, cockroaches and many more insects are now fundamentally immune to it.

Michael F Potter, Extension Entomologist at the University of Kentucky, wrote a paper on bug bombs (formerly called foggers), concluding them ineffective. Bug bombs release their contents upwards and, ultimately, settle onto all surfaces. Afterwards, there’s the humongous task of cleaning these volatile chemicals off everything. Those with respiratory conditions could suffer adverse reactions to their toxicity and should remain away until all rooms are cleaned and aired out. No one should ever be in the home while these products are in use.

The active ingredient in bug bombs is pyrethroid. The bigger problem, however, is that bug bombs scatter insects seeking refuge into other areas of the house. Many, therefore, never come into contact with the chemical and those that do – and survive – build up immunity which is passed along to future offspring. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger couldn’t be truer words.

Many residential indoor pesticide sprays, such as Raid and Terro, also use pyrethroids and its derivatives. The overspray of these products will drift throughout whichever room they’re sprayed in. They linger on fabrics, such as sofas and dish towels. And floors where small children tend to play and pets lie on; both likely to ingest these chemicals, one way or another.

– Tess

Excerpt from Little Buggers! How to identify, treat & prevent insect infestation, which is an ebook to guide homeowners through the most common insect infestations without chemicals. It also lets you know which ones absolutely do require help from the pros.

  • The author and publisher of Little Buggers! and all other publications on this website has taken care to provide accurate information but is not an expert and makes no representation or warranties on any content.
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