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Outdoor Pesticides – are they worth the risk?

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Now is the time to take a second look at what we decide to pass on to our families, our pets and our environment.

By Kimberly Monaghan Posted Jan 28, 2009

A young boy lies limp in a California hospital bed while his mother and doctors hover anxiously over him. The only movement comes from his arms that twitch convulsively as he fights to desperately hang on to life. In Pennsylvania, seventeen children are plagued with unexplained headaches, diarrhea, leg pains and fever while at school. After several years of work related exposure, Florida employees are stricken with cancer. And across the country over 50 million people develop circulatory, respiratory and nerve disorders within their own homes. All of these illnesses are derived from entirely different sources including clothing, routine school maintenance, lawn care application, and tap water, but they all have one thing in common – pesticides.

For decades outdoor pesticides have been the answer to delivering a nuisance-free lawn and fruitful garden. Farmers have benefited from the use of sprayed herbicides lessening erosion from over-tilled land and the spreading of deadly epidemics like Typhus has been prevented by the use of pesticides. Additionally, countries historically unable to defend against infestation are now able to prevent devastation of crops thanks to the invention of these chemical compounds. But just why do pesticides continue to be a hot issue in environmental circles? To begin with unless you’re a toxicologist or chemist, it may be difficult to accurately interpret and comprehend the effects of their chemical ingredients. Furthermore, does the average consumer even bother to read the back of the bag beyond the directions for application? Although we are offered some assurance from governing bodies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), this has not decreased the usage and spread of potentially dangerous chemicals.

What exactly constitutes a pesticide? There are numerous chemical compounds that fall under the heading of pesticides with most commonly utilized types being herbicides, insecticides and fungicides. Simply put, a pesticide is a carefully tested combination of substances that kills, or lessons, the threat from weeds, insects and fungus respectively. To better understand the structure of pesticides a brief history is necessary.

When pesticides were first introduced during in the forties, they seemed the perfect solution for combating agricultural, plant and animal pests. No longer would the farmer or homeowner be plagued with destructive and harmful nuisances thanks to the availability of products such as the familiar dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, more commonly known as DDT. DDT is a very poisonous agent to unwanted intruders designed to interfere with the normal nerve activity of insects and slowly kill them from the inside out. Just one of the indoor/outdoor pesticides widely used during this period, DDT could be easily dusted on clothing and furniture as well as on crops, and therefore was hailed as a miracle pest eradication method. One of the favored characteristics of these synthetic chemical compounds are their stability, or rather the ability to not break down and dissolve easily, therefore providing the advantage of long-term pest control.

Eventually, however, these chemical compounds were discovered to be a fatal source interrupting food chains and resulting in the deaths of many living creatures. Although many pesticides were eventually banned from, or limited in use within the United States their impact had already been made. Thanks to their stability along with soil, plant, water and animal absorption, the presence of these chemicals continued to be passed on. It was at this point in our history when scientists and activists such as Roy Barker and Rachel Carson, author of “Silent Spring” issued warnings provoking manufacturers, food processors, farm bureaus and government officials, laying the foundation for the debate over pesticide usage that continues today.

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