The use of chemical pesticides to control pest problems has been the most prevalent form of consciously-applied pest management in the decades following WWII. The first generation included highly toxic and pretty much ineffective compounds, such as arsenic and hydrogen cyanide. The following generations included largely synthetic organic compounds, such as the infamous DDT, which at the time were deemed miraculous for their broad spectrum, high toxicity, and the fact that they weren’t water soluble, so rain couldn’t wash them off.
At the moment, Canadians use millions of pounds of pesticides every year to combat invaders in agricultural crops, gardens, business properties, schools, hospitals, public transportation, and parks. What’s fundamentally wrong about pesticide use is that it doesn’t solve pest problems – it only eliminates existing infestations, leaving the conditions that led to a pest infestation in the first place unchanged. In other words, they address the symptoms, and not the cause, of the problem.
But there are many other reasons why pesticides, whether in the form of a bug spray or airplane crop dusting, are bad for both people and the environment. Here are the three most important:
Pesticides are created to harm and kill pests, but since they aren’t limited to specific species, they may cause harm and kill other organisms, including humans. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are more than 3 million cases of pesticide poisoning every year (2 million intentional and 1 million unintentional) and more than 200,000 deaths, the greatest percentage of which occur in developing countries.
People are harmed by pesticides in two ways: they are either poisoned or injured. Pesticide poisoning refers to the damage caused by pesticides to internal organs and can occur by swallowing, inhaling, and touching toxic substances, while pesticide-related injuries are caused by pesticides that act as external irritants. Even low levels of pesticide exposure have adverse harmful effects, including redness, blisters, swelling, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, chest pains, and difficulty breathing, while long-term exposure may cause anything from memory loss to hormonal imbalance and cancer.
Because they spend most of their time touching the ground and putting objects into their mouths, the developing brains and bodies of children are significantly more vulnerable to pesticide exposure than adults. A growing body of research has linked early life exposure to toxic pesticides with a wide range of cognitive and behavioral disorders. Either in the womb or during critical developmental periods, children face significant risks when exposed to pesticides, including: birth defects, cognitive impairment and delays, autism, brain cancers, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and endocrine imbalance.
You’ve surely heard of the bee colony collapse disorder or the bat and frog die-offs. What you probably didn’t know is that the decline in the population of these species and several others is now linked to the use of neonicotinoid pesticides. Neonics are a preventative pesticide used extensively by farmers as seed treatment for corn, soy, sugar beet, and other Canadian crops. The problem is, they accumulate in the soil and persist for months, even years, imperiling the navigation, food collection, longevity, and resistance to disease of bees and a variety of other animals, including earthworms, fish, and birds. Scientists are also finding that even low accumulations of pesticides in the soil can weaken plant immune systems and limit the needed resources of soil nutrients such as phosphorous and nitrogen.
Scientists are only now starting to learn about some of the destructive effects of pesticides, and there are still many questions left unanswered. What we know for sure is that pesticides have damaging effects to people, animals, and the environment, especially when used improperly. If you are facing a pest infestation on your residential or commercial property, call your local pest control company to discuss nontoxic, eco-friendly solutions to all your pest problems.
About the Author
Daniel Mackie, co-owner of Greenleaf Pest Control, is a Toronto pest control expert well-known as an industry go-to guy, an innovator of safe, effective pest control solutions, and is a regular guest on HGTV. Mackie, along with business partner Sandy Costa, were the first pest control professionals in Canada to use detection dogs and thermal remediation for the successful eradication of bed bugs. In his free time, he is an avid garden