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The Plague of Pesticides

The Plague of Pesticides

The overuse of pesticides on both a local and global scale is overwhelming. Chemicals are used extensively in agriculture and even in our homes. Ninety-four percent of commercial food now contains pesticides, and over ninety percent of North American households use pesticides, whether indoors, in gardens, or on lawns. What toll does this take on us, on our environment?

  • Agriculturally Speaking

  • Health Hazards

  • The Facts are in The Fat

  • Specific Poisons

  • 10 Things You Should Know About Pesticides

  • Top 5 Ways to Get Pesticides Out of Your Food

  • Campaign for Pesticide Reduction!

    Agriculturally Speaking

  • Using synthetic pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and fertilizers is dangerous and unethical. The farmer exposes himself, his workers, the consumer to health hazards. What's more, as we discover the extent to which ecology is interconnected, we begin to understand that applying poisons affects much more than just the targeted organisms. Pesticides kill beneficial insects and affect the food chain, infecting "low" level organisms and the water table. Sprayed pesticides can travel miles, affecting wildlife and people.

    Synthetic fertilizers essentially trick the plant into thinking the soil is more fertile than it is. The plant then grows more vigourously, draining the soil of the exisitng microorganisms, which the fertilizers cannot supply. These microorganisms are responsible for much of the vitality that supports life in the soil, and consequently vitality in the grown food. With the soil thus depleted, it requires the application of ever more fertilizers, decreases the soil's capacity to hold water, and contributes to soil erosion. It is a spiralling downward cycle of dependance and depletion which yields unhealthy food and leaves an unhealthy environment. This is irresponsible and dangerous, yet it is the norm due to an undervaluing of our resources and health by mass market economics.

    Health Hazards

    Our bodies and our environment are used as guinea pigs as we, often unwittingly, consume what amounts to chemical coctails. While some effects of many pesticides are known (and frequently ignored, covered up or simply exported to the third world!), many effects, and the complicated combining effects of toxins in our systems, are not known. The irksome long half-lives of so many synthetic poisons mean it would be almost impossible for our friendly chemical manufacturers to conceive of, much lest test the effects of, the combinations that culminate over time

    . That being said, there are some easily identifiable symptoms of our acceptance of the chemical companies` profit motive.

    Multiple chemical sensitivity is a growing disorder across the entire globe. Pesticides (insecticides, herbicides and fungicides) cause increased susceptibility to viral and bacterial infections. Often people exposed to pesticides complain of flu-like symptoms. There is not a single organ in the body which is not affected by pesticides. They affect the neurological, immune, hematopoetic, gastrointestinal, reproductive, cardiovascular and endocrinological systems. They affect the skin.

    Many signs and symptoms associated with any of the above mentioned systems are often labeled idiopathic or psychogenic when, in fact, they are caused by toxins. Pesticides are also often immunosuppressive and carcinogenic.

    Particularly susceptible are children, pregnant women (there is no placental barrier for toxins) and seniors. Allergic individuals have a poor ability to detoxify when exposed to toxins. They react much sooner than normal and usually develop chronic chemical sensitivities. The American Cancer Society has projected data estimates that one-third of all the American babies born in 19885 will develop invasive cancer (excluding skin cancer) sometime during their lifetimes, and two-thirds of these will die of the disease. This data is also valid for Canadian children. It is estimated that 70-80 per cent of cancers are environmentally induced. Every human being and all species are at risk.

    The Facts are in the Fat

    Many ingested pesticides are stored in the fat tissue. They are released gradually into the blood stream and over a period of years contribute to autoimmune and degenerative diseases. When the residues of fat-soluble compounds are found in the blood, there are significantly greater concentrations of the same compound in other body tissues in complex equilibrium. In many cases, the concentration in fat tissues compared to blood may be 100 to 300 times greater. The brain contains large amounts of fatty substances and therefore the fat soluble chemicals accumulate there in increased quantities. Therefore, it is not surprising that behavioral changes such as depression, concentration and memory problems may be the most sensitive indicators of exposure to chemicals.

    A Criminal Practice

    We need to stop the use of chemical pesticides in order to survive. It is estimated that 80 per cent of pesticide-associated cancer risks come from 15 foods, with tomatoes, beef, potatoes, oranges and lettuce leading the list. We have to stop using pesticides which are employed for cosmetic reasons in public places, particularly in and around schools, hospitals and nursing homes. The practice of selling banned pesticides to other countries is criminal; importing the pesticide-ridden foods from those same countries is criminal as well. The easy availability and promotion of pesticides is an unacceptable and anti-social practice.

    Specific Poisons

    Chlorinated Pesticides

    The main representatives are aldrin, dieldrin, chlordane, heptachlor, transnonachlor, DDT and its metabolites (DDE, DDD), endrin, hexachlorrobenzene, lindane, (Alpha, Beta, Delta, BHC). These have been used extensively in agriculture, in forestry and even households over the last 20 years. Some of these have been banned from use in Canada and the U.S. due to their long half-lives and very poor biodegradability; but they are then exported to Third World countries! Their long half-life has enabled trace amounts to bee found in the mother's milk of inuit women - FAR from the original source. They cause various pathological conditions in humans, including cancer.


    Polychlorinated biphenols were developed as a coolant for electrical transformers. Before 1972, PCBs were used in transformer fluids, hydraulic adhesives, pesticides and immersion oil for microscopy.

    The main target organ for PCBs is the liver. Stored in the fat, they are very poorly metabolized. When PCBs are burned they yield polychlorinated debenzafurons and dioxins which are 100 to 1000 times more toxic than PCBs. Dioxins are the most toxic substances known today. The symptoms recorded in the literature range from lesions such as chloracne, brownish nails, neuralgia, reduced nerve conduction velocity and sensory neuropathy to malignant melanoma and liver cancers.


    These pesticides such as such as malathion, dursban, diazanon and carbonates constitute 40 per cent of all pesticides used. They act through the inhibition of cholinesterases and cause an excess of acetylocholine which itself is toxic. These chemicals are mainly used inside buildings. They disappear from the biological system within 24 hour, but even so cause delayed neurotoxincity involving the cerebral cortex, brain stem, spinal cord, peripheral nerves, muscles and eyes.

    Phenoxyacid Herbicides

    There are a variety of these products on the market. Most commonly known are 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T, which, when proportionately mixed, make up Agent Orange. They are extensively used in the control of terestrial broadleaf plants. They have been proven to cause leucopenia and non-Hodgkin's leucopenia and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

    10 Things You Should Know About Pesticides

    1. A 1992 analysis of 5,592 washed and peeled fruits and vegetables showed that 61 per cent of them contained pesticide residues. Grapes had 21 different pesticides, apples 25.

    2. Pesticides banned in North America still end up in the produce we buy here. In fact, we manufacture banned toxic chemicals and sell them to other countries who then use them on food which is shipped back and sold in our markets. Half of our winter produce is imported.

    3. Scientists have traced DDT in our Great Lakes to sources i n Central America, where it is still used.

    4. Dow Chemical, Monsanto and Ely Lilly are among the multinational companies which produce banned pesticides with known health dangers. One such product, DBCP, has rendered thousands of Latin American banana workers sterile.

    5. Worldwide sperm count levels have dropped 50 per cent in only the last half-century. If these levels continue, most men will be sterile in two generations.

    6. DDT was banned in 1972; however, researches have found no decrease of this chemical in human breast milk since that time.

    7. If the same levels of DDT found in human breast milk were found in cow's milk today, the product would be banned.

    8. Recent studies show that breast cancer patients have higher levels of DDT in their blood than those without cancer. Other studies show higher pesticide levels in the bodies of stomach and lung cancers.

    9. Multinational chemical companies have spent millions to block or lighten legislation that proposes to limit pesticide use.

    10. Despite repeated appeals from consumers and scientists, Agriculture Canada does not test for the effects of combined pesticide toxicity or of long-term effects when regulating pesticide safety and usage.


    1. Grow your own food organically. There are many great books and organizations for beginners and experts alike. Take advantage of knowledge in your community! Look for community gardening projects in your area. Contact COG (Canadian Organic Growers).

    2. Buy organically grown foods. Support farmers focusing on safe, renewable farming practices. Get to know your farmer, get your produce through Community Supported Agriculture!

    3. Buy local fruits and vegetables in season. Avoid the chemical-ridden foods from other countries where pesticide laws are lax. The closer to home your food comes from, the less likely it is to need artificial means of preserving freshness.

    4. Wash peel or scrape all produce. Some surface residues may be removed by washing in clean water or a weak hydrogen peroxide solution. Potatoes, Zucchinis and other such produce may also be peeled, but with some nutritional loss.

    5. Complain! Talk to your supermarket manager, your local MP and the Minister of Agriculture. Tell them you won't buy pesticide-laden foods and ask what they intend to do to address this problem.

    (Alive, no.177)

    Join the Campaign Against Cosmetic Pesticides

    Campaigns for local pesticide reduction by-laws were launched in 22 communities across Canada in May 1996. The efforts are being undertaken by local citizens` and environmental groups, with coordination from the Campaign for Pesticide Reduction! (CPR!), a network of environmental and labour groups. The campaigners are approaching their municipal councils with proposals to restrict the cosmetic use of pesticides in public parks and school yards as well as on private property. "Every year, tons of toxic chemicals are sprayed on parks and playgrounds for purely cosmetic reasons," says Merryl Hammond of the Coalition for Alternatives Pesticides. "The fixation with dandelion eradication is placing our children needlessly at risk." Work for change! Get involved in the campaign to change pesticide by-laws in your community. Contact Angela Rickman of CPR! at 1-888-8810-4204.

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