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Kill ‘Em All!

  It might seem that pesticides aren’t that harmful. After all, once the spray dries and there isn’t a smell anymore it’s ok, right? Nope. If the chemicals applied didn’t work after drying they wouldn’t work to kill the weed or pest. You’d be calling the exterminator back the next day. Although you don’t smell anything, the chemicals and solvents used in pesticides can be detected long after application1. Most of the chemicals are called “inert” ingredients and not listed on the label. Do not be confused by the terms insecticides or herbicides, fungicides and antimicrobials. These are also pesticides.

Pesticides can be very bad for your health and affect your quality of your life. Besides causing cancer, they can make your life miserable. Pesticides have been reported as a leading cause of sinusitis, bronchitis, migraines, allergies, and immune system disorders such as chronic fatigue, even at low levels.

Using pesticides might seem worth the risk except for the fact that they do not solve the pest problem. Pesticides kill pests but you have to continuing apply them, otherwise pests come back. If pesticides worked we would see a decrease in the amount of pesticides sold each year. Instead the amount sold seems to be increasing. Perhaps this is in part because pesticides kill beneficial bugs too, making it more difficult to control any pest problem you might have.

Health Effects

Children and pets are extremely vulnerable to pesticides, more so than adults. Children have more skin surface for their size than adults and have less mature immune and enzyme systems to detoxify chemicals.7 The following study was published in 1998 in the Environmental Health Perspectives, a publication of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Scientists recruited children ages 4-5 from the Sonora Yaqui Valley in Mexico. The children lived in towns in an agricultural region where pesticides are applied 45 times per crop cycle. Most of their exposure came from pesticide drift and dust. A control group of children was studied from a nearby region in the foothills where families avoid the use of pesticides and use fly swatters instead of household sprays to kill bugs8. This significance of this study is that other than differences in exposure to pesticides, the two groups are similar genetically, culturally and physically. They have similar diets, eating the same local foods.  

There were developmental differences in children exposed to pesticides. The children in the valley where pesticides are used are not as neurologically developed as the children in the foothills. The valley children averaged 1.6 body parts per drawing they were asked to make of a person compared to the foothill children’s 4.4 body parts. It was noticed that the normal children moved the paper about for better positioning in drawing a specific body part compared their drawing to an actual person to make necessary corrections. Valley children would look at an individual but continue to draw meaningless circles. This supports evidence from other studies that pesticides impair motor skill development and may cause lowered IQ’s similar to lead exposure. A scary thought considering the brain may not be able to regenerate itself and neurological damage can be permanent.9

Another observation made in the study was that valley children seemed less creative in their play. Group play was more prevalent in the foothills where pesticides are not used with pretend parties for dolls and street games. In the valley where pesticides are used, children tended to roam the streets with minimal group interaction. Some valley children were observed hitting their siblings when they passed by and becoming easily upset or angry with minor corrective comments from parents. These aggressive behaviors were not noticed in the foothills8.

 “-cide” means “kill”. There is a strong correlation between pesticides and breast cancer.

Children in families that use pesticides are 6.5 times more likely to get childhood leukemia10. Pesticides are stored in fat tissues. Build up can effect people years after exposure.

Pesticide exposure has been associated with the following health problems:
  • Immune system depressor - people get sick more often
  • Asthma and allergies
  • Neurological disorders & motor coordination impairment
  • Learning disabilities and decrease in IQ similar to lead exposure
  • Birth defects
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Cancers including breast cancer11

A follow-up study was recently done with the girls from the Yaqui Valley. Researchers found changes in the breast development in girls from the agricultural regions where pesticides are used12. The girls had decreases in the amount of mammary tissue necessary for breast feeding.

Using pesticides in the house or in the yard creates the potential for cumulative buildup over time. Pesticides can cause birth defects.  It is strongly recommended that pregnant women and young children avoid pesticides.

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Revised: July 05, 2017.

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