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Are pesticides dangerous? Can they damage my body?

Since 1962, when Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring, first exposed the hazards of DDT to the public, scientists have uncovered more and more information about the dangers pesticides pose to animals and humans.

Unfortunately, people are trusting. We assume that pesticides have undergone lengthy testing by the government before being cleared for use. But this is not the case. Instead, the government accepts the minimal testing done by the manufacturers themselves. Thousands of people have to become sick before the government will even begin to rethink its approval of chemicals used in pesticides (chemicals used to kill insects and other pests) and herbicides (weed killers).

Contrary to what manufacturers of lawn and garden products tell their customers, herbicides and pesticides are not “perfectly safe.” These chemicals are broad-spectrum biocides (chemicals that can kill living things). Therefore, it is the chemical nature of these chemicals to harm organisms other than the targeted insects, other pests, and weeds. Unfortunately, the other organisms include homeowners, their families, neighbors, and pets.

The pesticide/herbicide industry downplays this by arguing that the chemicals in the products are extremely diluted. However, the pesticide/herbicide industry does not mention that these chemicals are extremely toxic even in very small amounts.

Pesticide/herbicide companies also don’t disclose everything that is in their products. Many components are labeled “inert,” which keeps the manufacturer from having to list all the specific chemicals on the product label. “Inert” does not mean harmless. Benzene and xylene are frequently labeled inert compounds, but these chemicals often are far more toxic than the chemicals listed on the label in pesticides and herbicides.

Another common misconception is that pesticides, such as sumithrin, are safer, because they are made from chrysanthemum flowers. Not true! Sumithrin belongs to a class of pesticides known as pyrethroids, which are synthetic analogs of compounds found in chrysanthemums and dandelions. Pyrethroids are not natural. In fact, pyrethroids are toxic to the endocrine system (including the thyroid) and the immune system.

Pyrethroids disrupt the body’s natural hormonal balance, elevating levels of estrogen in women. A study at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine that was published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health Perspectives (March 1999, Vol. 107 [Issue 3]), found: “Pyrethroids should be considered to be hormone disruptors, and their potential to affect endocrine function in humans and wildlife should be investigated.” The study indicated that these pesticides interfere with the endocrine system by mimicking the effects of estrogen. Exposure to higher levels of estrogen is known to increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer.

Pesticides float in the air and eventually settle. In the Antarctic region alone, there are 2.4 million pounds of DDT that has accumulated over the years. Pesticides are easily tracked indoors where they are inhaled or absorbed through the skin.
Pesticides attack essential organ systems, including the central nervous system. Symptoms of pesticide poisoning — including headaches, nausea, fever, breathing difficulties, muscle pain, tissue swelling, sore nose, eye pains, incontinence, numbness in the hands and feet, anxiety and sleep disorders — are very mundane, and are often misdiagnosed as allergies or the flu. Longer-term consequences of pesticide exposure include neurological damage, memory loss, suicidal depression, liver and kidney dysfunction, infertility, and cancer.

The National Academy of Sciences reported that at least 1 out of 7 people are significantly harmed by pesticide exposure each year. As Catherine Karr, a toxicologist from the National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides, points out, more and more people are beginning to “link feeling terrible with the fact the neighbors had the lawn sprayed the day before.”

Consider some of the troubling findings linking pesticides and cancer:

  • According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 95% of the pesticides used on residential lawns are possible or probable carcinogens

  • In 1989, the National Cancer Institute reported that children develop leukemia 6 times more often when pesticides are used around their homes

  • The American Journal of Epidemiology found that more children with brain tumors and other cancers had been exposed to insecticides than had healthy children

  • Studies by the National Cancer Institute and medical researchers elsewhere have discovered a definite link between fatal non-Hodgkins lymphoma (NHL) and exposure to triazine herbicides (like Atrazine), phenoxyacetic herbicides (2,4-D), organophosphate insecticides (Diazinon), fungicides, and fumigants; all of which have uses as lawn chemicals. Environmental exposure to these chemicals may be an important contributing factor to the 50% rise in NHL observed over the past ten years in the U.S. population. Studies of farmers who once used these herbicides and pesticides found alarmingly high numbers of NHL, especially in the farmers who didn't wear protective clothing. These findings also prove the theory that most danger from herbicides and pesticides come through dermal (skin) absorption, not ingestion.

  • A University of Iowa study of golf course superintendents found abnormally high rates of death due to cancer of the brain, large intestine, and prostate gland. Other experts are beginning to link golfers, and non-golfers who live near fairways, with these same cancers.

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