Photo: Protecting your health from pesticides

The David Suzuki Foundation recommends choosing local, organic produce, whenever possible.
(Credit: Anna Majkowska via Flickr.)

Insects and pesticides are designed to kill organisms such as weeds, bugs and fungi. But these dangerous chemicals can have unexpected results:

  • Pesticides are toxic to many forms of life. Beneficial insects such as ladybugs and honeybees can be killed by pesticides which can lead to worse insect problems in the future.
  • Pesticide residues can accumulate in the food chain. These traces may cause damage to birds, fish and other forms of animal life. In many cases these side effects are not immediately apparent, but may show up later, for example, in the abnormal eggs of birds that have eaten pesticide-laced insects.
  • Children are especially at risk from pesticides and are much more susceptible to these chemicals than adults. Kids have more skin area relative to body volume than adults and their skin may be more permeable to pesticides. Young kids also tend to play for hours in the yard, putting dirty fingers, other objects and dirt in their mouths.
  • Pesticides don't remain on your lawn and garden. Stormwater runoff carries toxins into nearby streams, rivers and lakes harming fish and other water wildlife. These water bodies may also be the source of your drinking water.
  • Many pesticides contain ingredients known or suspected of causing cancer. Studies also suggest strong associations between pesticides and other serious health consequences.

Although pesticides are applied to address a specific "pest" problem, pesticides are not smart chemicals. Once dispersed into the environment, pesticides can affect non-target plant, animal, and human health.

In a systematic review of scientific literature, the Ontario College of Family Physicians found "consistent links to serious illnesses, such as cancer, reproductive problems and neurological diseases" associated with long-term exposure to pesticides. Children are particularly vulnerable.

A David Suzuki Foundation investigation of the incidence of acute pesticide poisonings in Canada found more than 6000 cases in one year. In nearly half of these cases, the victims were children under the age of six.

In addition to human health risks, pesticides also threaten pollinators, helpful insects essential to our food supply. Even small amounts of certain pesticides are known to affect bee longevity, memory, navigation and foraging abilities.

The David Suzuki Foundation recommends choosing local, organic produce, whenever possible, and doing away with the so-called cosmetic use of pesticides on lawns, gardens, and house plants.

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