Nationwide, thousands of
pesticide-related accidents are reported each year! In 1994, in California alone, 1,332
illnesses and three deaths were linked to pesticides use, according to the California office of the
EPA. Just as alarming are the health problems that might be caused by
long-term exposure to pesticide residues in our food, our water, and the
environment.P.O. box 42419, Cincinnati, OH., 45242 or
There are about 2.2 billion pounds of pesticides used annually in the U.S., not only on
commercial crops, but in homes, gardens, schools, offices, grocery stores,
golf courses and parks. The definition of pesticides are "any
substance or mixture of substances intended for preventing, destroying,
repelling or mitigating any pest." So in addition to insect repellents
and bug sprays, pesticides include the weed killers you use on your lawn,
the rat poison in your basement and the flea collar on your cat or dog.
Also, because bacteria is classified as a "pest," the chemicals
in your pool and even the disinfectants stored under your kitchen sink---
such as bleach and ammonia--- are considered pesticides!
As a result, you probably come in contact with far more potentially
dangerous chemicals than you realize. Obviously, there is plenty we don't
know about the subtle effects of pesticides on human health. But given what
we do know, experts advise us to limit our exposure.
Pesticides have also been used in the building industry to condition a site
where insect infestations prevented successful construction.
Chlordane was used as a termiticide on various surfaces of homes built
before 1988. Chlordane replaced pentachlorophenol (penta) for this purpose
when adverse health effects from penta became understood. Unfortunately,
neither chemical is harmless to humans. Penta can cause rapidly fatal
poisoning, sweating, high fever, breathing problems, chest and abdomen
pains, and death. Repeated exposures may damage the liver and kidneys.
Chlordane is a carcinogen that may damage developing fetuses and cause low
fertility in men and women. Exposure can lead to convulsions,
unconsciousness, and death. Low-level exposures can cause nausea,
headaches, abdominal pain, and eye irritation. Standard procedure for homes
in termite-prone areas was to apply 100 gallons of chlordane to soil around
a foundation per 1,000 square feet of living space. Penta or chlordane can
enter a house the same way radon does: through pathways such as foundation
or basement floor cracks as a home becomes depressurized.
Penta and chlordane have been replace with other chemicals. A popular one
is chlorpyrifos, which causes wheezing, laryngeal spasms, and excessive
salivation. Respiratory and central nervous systems may be affected by
long-term exposures. Chemicals in other pesticides, herbicides, and
fungicides have been observed as soil pollutants. These have been applied
to lawns in suburban areas and have long been used for agricultural
purposes in rural areas. Regarding the latter case, this may become more of
an issue as agricultural lands are increasingly being converted to housing
development. The effects of chlorodane include: birth defects, male and
female fertility problems, convulsions, unconsciousness, death
All pesticides are designed to have a lethal or catastrophic effect. Just
because you are not an insect does not mean you are completely immune from
the effects of the chemical components. High concentrations and exposure
times may combine to cause serious or fatal outcomes on the human
Let's get some facts laid out:
1) NO PESTICIDE IS COMPLETELY SAFE.
All pesticides are toxic to varying degrees. If using pesticides, follow
directions carefully. Check credentials carefully in hiring exterminators.
Ask what chemicals are being used, how much will be used, how long it will
be in the air?
2) PESTICIDES DON'T STAY WHERE THEY'RE PUT.
If you've ever used weed killers on your lawn, you can bet they're probably
in your carpet, too! EPA researchers found that herbicides can cling to
your shoes and be tracked into the house, and residues can remain in your
carpet for as long as a year.
3) PRODUCE SOLD IN OUR STORES MAY CONTAIN UNACCEPTABLE LEVELS OF
344 million pounds of potentially dangerous pesticides were legally
exported by the U.S. from 1992
through 1994. Dubbed the "Circle of Poison," some of those
pesticides return as residues on imported foods. Only 1 percent of all
imports are tested by the Food and Drug Administration for illegal
pesticide residues. BE CAREFUL!
4) INERT INGREDIENTS AREN'T NECESSARILY HARMLESS.
In addition to the active ingredient--- the chemical that actually kills
the pest--- it's not uncommon for home pesticide products to consist of 99
percent or more inert ingredients. Inert ingredients can be dangerous,
"sometimes they can be more toxic than the active ingredient". It
is a concern that these substances could cause health damage to people who
are exposed to them.
5) YOU DON'T HAVE TO SWALLOW A PESTICIDE TO BE HARMED BY IT.
There are 2 other routes of exposure: Inhalation and absorption through the
skin. Even if inhaling, absorbing or ingesting traces of pesticides causes
no symptoms, small amounts can build up in your body over time. Some
chemicals pass right through your body while others tend to accumulate in
6) CHILDREN ARE MORE VULNERABLE TO PESTICIDES.
"Because their systems are still developing and because they consume
more food and fluids--- relative to their body size than adults, children
are more at risk from toxic substances.
7) PESTICIDE RESIDUES ARE IN OUR DRINKING WATER!
More than 75 percent of pesticides are used for agricultural purposes, and
many eventually find their way into our water supplies, especially from May
through July, the peak growing season. A 1995 study by the Environmental
Working Group, a nonprofit environmental research group based in Washington D.C., found that 21
out of 29 midwestern cities had 4 or more different weed killers, or
herbicides, in their tap water. Atrazine, the top selling pesticide in the U.S. (commonly used
on corn crops), was found in all but 1 city. This herbicide is banned in a
number of European countries, possibly because several studies showed a
potential for increased cancer risks in humans and in rats. The EPA has
launched a special review of Atrazine and similar pesticides, but the
review won't be complete for several years.
Just how dangerous is pesticide contaminated tap water? There's no easy
answer. When the EPA sets tolerances for acceptable levels of pesticide
residue in water (or food), a margin of safety, typically a hundredfold is
factored in to cover uncertainties such as the differences between the humans
and animals studied. The problem, acknowledged by officials and
environmentalists alike, is that those tolerances don't take into account
the realistic potential for, say, traces of nine different weed killers in
a single glass of water. The unknown cumulative effects are one concern;
the possibility of synergism, in which one chemical boosts the power of a
second chemical, is another problem altogether
8) SOME HOUSEHOLD PESTICIDES ARE CHEMICAL COUSINS OF NERVE GAS!
Malathion, Permathrin, Diazinon, Methyl parathion and some other commonly
used pesticides belong to a class of chemicals called Organophosphates. So
does Sarin, the nerve gas tens of thousands of soldiers were exposed to in
the Gulf War! All organophosphates, whether household bug killers or wartime
nerve gases, function by interfering with cholinesterase, an enzyme
essential to the nervous system of humans, animals and insects.
Unfortunately, what hasn't been studied is what low-level exposure means
over long time periods. Currently, the effects of organophosphate poisoning
are a central part of the debate over Gulf War syndrome. More alarmingly
some of these chemicals are used in popular shampoo treatments for head
lice and scabies. READ THE LABELS of any product very carefully. Watch out
for trade names and latinisation!
9) FOR MORE INFORMATION.
The EPA's office of Pesticide Programs offers dozens of free publications.
For a catalog, write U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Center for
Environmental Publications and Information, Attn: Publications Orders,
9 WAYS TO REDUCE YOUR EXPOSURE TO PESTICIDES.
1) Buy fruits and vegetables in season; the closer produce was grown to
your home, the less likely it is to have been treated with chemicals to
keep it pest free during storage and shipping.
2) Thoroughly rinse all fruits and vegetables, but don't use detergents,
they may leave behind chemical residues not intended for human consumption.
Consider peeling any produce that's heavily waxed; the wax may have been
mixed with fungicides to extend the shelf life of the produce.
3) Consider buying organic produce or growing some of your own.
4) Always trim fat from meat and fish; some pesticides build up in fatty
5) Ask neighbors to let you know when they plan to spray pesticides in
their yard so you can be sure kids and pets are out of harms way. Stay off
any lawn that's been treated for at least 24 hours!
6) If you use a commercial lawn and landscape maintenance service--- and
some 13 million Americans do, find out exactly what pesticides are applied
and how often. Ask if the company offers alternatives. Also, warn kids to
stay away from lawn treatment trucks and to avoid areas with flags that
indicate a lawn, tree or shrub has been sprayed with chemicals.
7) Find out what pest-management practices are used in your office and your
child's school. Ask to be notified when chemical pesticides are used and
encourage alternative nonchemical pest-control methods.
8) Find out if drinking water in your area has high pesticide residues. You
can ask your water supplier for test results or, if you use a
9) private well, have it tested yourself. Also, encourage local officials
to work on eliminating the source of contamination. Filtration methods are
available to greatly reduce this problem.