Unless you’re living a completely organic lifestyle off in the woods somewhere, pesticides are something you’re probably exposed to on a daily basis. Not only are they sprayed on our food, they’re permeating the air we breathe and infiltrating the water we drink. What can you do about it? Well, if nothing else, you can become more aware of the pervasiveness of pesticides and their effects. Having more knowledge about their presence can be helpful for knowing how to avoid them. Get ready though: today’s facts about pesticides are depressing.
8 Pesticide Facts
Pesticides are likely nothing new to you, but the full truth may be. Here are 8 facts you might not know about pesticides.
1. Pesticides Increase Suicide Risk Among Farmers?
There’s growing evidence that prolonged pesticide use can affect one’s mental state, and some research also indicates pesticides may influence Parkinson's disease risk. A recent report examined the link between a depression diagnosis and specific pesticides. According to the report, organochlorine insecticides were 90 percent more likely to correlate with a depression diagnosis among farmers who were exposed to the toxins. Fumigants increased risk by 80 percent.  While these numbers are alarming, it’s not just long-term use of pesticides that’s the issue; short-term exposure to toxic levels can also double the risk for depression and suicide.  
2. Pesticides Are Affecting Pregnant Women
While pesticides might be wreaking havoc on brain chemistry, there’s also evidence suggesting they cause pregnancy complications.  Ethylene thiourea (ET) is a compound found in the fungicide Mancozeb. A recent report found that ET could affect brain development in an unborn child. Exposure isn’t that difficult, either. Mancozeb is sprayed on bananas, watermelons, and potatoes and other common fruits and vegetables.
3. Pesticide Regulations Are a Joke
It might come as a shock to learn some areas have little to no regulations when it comes to toxic pesticides. For example, in Oregon, buffer zones for streams are only 60 feet, and residential areas haven’t even been protected since 1996.  Even more depressing, there are no federal laws that require growers to report pesticide use to surrounding schools. A recent pediatric report noted that brief exposure can cause eye and skin irritation as well as headaches.  Who knows how harmful these pesticides can be to our kids over time?
4. Pesticides Are Destroying America’s Waterways
A recent U.S Geological Survey found that pesticides contaminate our waterways.  The study, which noted levels from 2002 to 2011, reported that while banned pesticide concentrations are dropping, newly approved pesticides are simply picking up the slack. While the risk to aquatic life is still dangerously high, newer EPA regulations have lessened the human danger. New pesticides are coming out all the time, so let’s hope the government can keep up.
5. Pesticides Are Killing the Bees
DDT has been banned for decades but recent evidence suggests that neonicotinoid insecticides pose an even larger threat to our environment.  Since most insecticides target an insect’s nervous system, more and more of our bees are dying from unintentional exposure.  Bees are some of nature’s biggest pollinators, so a weakening bee population means a weakening global agriculture.  These insecticides are neurotoxins, so human health risk is also very, very real.
6. Pesticides Are Polluting the Air
Fumigants are a particularly nasty class of pesticides that are, unfortunately, par for the course when it comes to strawberry production. They’re sprayed onto the berries and produce lethal gas as a byproduct, so it shouldn’t be a huge surprise that they’re polluting our air. A recent report found that while California — the largest producer of strawberries — has relatively pesticide-free air, two fumigants are on the watch list because of increased levels.  That’s problematic, for sure, but California is the only state that even monitors air quality and pesticides. 
7. Pesticides Have Contaminated Our Food
A federal audit revealed the FDA isn’t performing enough pesticide residue tests. What do these tests tell us? Only whether or not our food supply is safe! The report showed that “[the FDA is] testing less than one-tenth of 1 percent of all imported fruits and vegetables and less than 1 percent of domestic fruits and vegetables.”  In addition to too few tests, fumigants, some of the most dangerous pesticides, continue to persist in the strawberry industry, and the majority of the conventional U.S apple crop will be coated with DPA, a chemical to prevent blackening or browning.
8. We Don’t Fully Understand the Devastating Effect of Pesticides
Perhaps the most depressing fact of all is that we still don’t fully understand the effects of pesticide exposure in the long term. We simply don’t know how far health effects will reach or the complete consequences to the environment. It is clear, though, that pesticides are simply a moneymaker for industries fueled by dollar signs. Neonicotinoid insecticides were worth $2.63 billion in 2009 alone.
One Final Thought
Are you convinced that pesticides are bad news? Those 8 facts were depressing, but awareness is the first step to protecting yourself. If anything, purchase organic food and keep a distance from farms that use pesticides. Filter your water and the air in your home to reduce exposure.
- Beard, John et al. Pesticide Exposure and Depression among Male Private Pesticide Applicators in the Agricultural Health Study. Environmental Health Perspectives. 122 (9).
- Faria, N. et al. Association between pesticide exposure and suicide rates in Brazil. NeuroToxicology. Volume 45, December 2014, Pages 355-362. doi: 10.1016/j.neuro.2014.05.003.
- Ringgenberg, W. Trends and characteristics of occupational suicide and homicide in farmers and agriculture workers, 1992-2010. University of Iowa.
- Mora, A. et al. Aerial Application of Mancozeb and Urinary Ethylene Thiourea (ETU) Concentrations among Pregnant Women in Costa Rica: The Infants’ Environmental Health Study (ISA). Environmental Health Perspectives.
- Oregon Department of Agriculture. Buffers Imposed by the U.S. District Court Order. Oregon Department of Agriculture.
- Council on Environmental Health. Pesticide Exposure in Children. Pediatrics. 130 (6).
- Stone, W. et al. An Overview Comparing Results from Two Decades of Monitoring for Pesticides in the Nation’s Streams and Rivers, 1992–2001 and 2002–2011. U.S Geological Survey.
- Environmental Commissioner of Ontario. Managing New Challenges: 2013-2014 Annual Report. Environmental Commissioner of Ontario.
- Haynes, K. Sublethal Effects of Neurotoxic Insecticides on Insect Behavior. Annual Review of Entomology. 33.
- Whitehorn, P. et al. Neonicotinoid Pesticide Reduces Bumble Bee Colony Growth and Queen Production. Science. 336 (6079).
- California Department of Pesticide Regulation. Pesticide Residue Monitoring Program. California Department of Pesticide Regulation.
- California Department of Pesticide Regulation. Department of Pesticide Regulation Air Monitoring Shows Pesticides Well Below Health Screening Levels. California Department of Pesticide Regulation.
- U.S Government Accountability Office. FDA and USDA Should Strengthen Pesticide Residue Monitoring Programs and Further Disclose Monitoring Limitations. U.S Government Accountability Office.
†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.