There are a number of reasons why pesticides are used, although we usually associate their use with food production. Pesticides are also used to control infestations of ants or termites, to prevent malaria mosquitos from breeding, in dips for sheep, and even in the flea and tick products you might be putting on your dogs and cats.
Although we may think of pesticides being used against insects, the term actually encompasses herbicides and fungicides as well.
A scary thought is that less than 1% of the pesticides used actually reach the target – 99% of them are simply added to the environment. There are many types of pesticides used in the United States, and unfortunately, no one knows much about the long term human effects.
Common Pesticide: Atrizine
One of the most widely used pesticides in the United States is actually an herbicide called atrazine. This product is used on agricultural land to kill weeds, and you may also see it sprayed along highways to control unwanted plants.
It is perhaps significant that although it is considered to be ‘safe’ here in the States, atrazine has been banned in most of Europe. Rather alarmingly, it has been found in nearly every water system in the central Midwest, and in a few places in the South.
No one is certain what the effects of pesticides in humans would be as regards atrazine, but damage has been done to the heart, kidneys, and livers in animals exposed to it.
Herbicides, including atrazine, actually constitute the types of pesticides used most in the United States. It is definitely disturbing that tests of blood and urine from various places in the country have always shown the presence of these questionable chemicals
Other Types of Pesticides and What They Do
When sprayed on fields, the herbicides alachlor and 1,3 – dichloropropene can enter the water system either through runoff into streams or groundwater or can be spread as dust in the wind.
Additionally, herbicides are often taken into the crop itself, and once integrated into the actual structure of the fruit or vegetable, will be impossible to remove by washing. Dichloropropene has been found to irritate mucus membranes, cause anemia, and is probably a carcinogen. The effects of alachlor are even more serious and include damage to the spleen, eyes, liver, and it does cause cancer.
Aldicarb is one of the most dangerous types of pesticides and is used to kill or control such crop pests as thrips, mites, and aphids as well as soil-dwelling nematodes. Although an agreement was reached between the EPA and the manufacturer in 2010 to end the use of aldicarb, it can still be produced by the company until 2014 and will not be actually prohibited until four years after that.
Aldicarb is also smuggled in from Mexico for use by unscrupulous farmers. This is such a potent toxin that it can cause death from paralysis of the lungs, although people exposed to it will usually experience only such symptoms as nausea, blurry vision, headaches, and tremors.
Why Are So Many Pesticides Used?
Part of the reason why our country has become so saturated with pesticides is the practice of monoculture.
Monoculture means that vast fields of only one kind of crop are planted, such as thousands of acres of corn or beans. These fields act as a magnet for insects and pests especially, and as such the pests are difficult to control.
It has probably been the demise of the smaller, family farm that has contributed most to the widespread use of chemicals to control pests. It would be unrealistic to imagine that the United States could return to pre-WW II agriculture, but there is no reason why more rigorous testing of pesticides cannot be conducted before these products are used and released into the environment.