Peña: Pesticides, herbicides and household chemicals

CHEMICALS are all around us. They have penetrated practically all aspects of our daily lives. They are in our homes, workplaces, in the air we breathe and the food we eat. Now we are finding out that many of these substances which we thought have brought wonders, are actually killing us softly.

In our homes we use chemicals like insecticides, perfumes, nail polish, varnish, paints and cleaners. We thought that these common substances are harmless but a new study says otherwise. The research from the University of Colorado reveals that these personal products are responsible for air pollution that is equal or even greater than your car’s exhaust. Chemical products that contain compounds refined from petroleum like household cleaners, pesticides, paints and perfumes, now rival motor vehicle emissions as the top source of urban air pollution.

Chemicals that we use to control pests and weeds have also created another problem. After anti-biotic resistant ‘super bugs’, there is now herbicide-resistant weeds or ‘super weeds’. Researchers in the United Kingdom have discovered the existence of these super weeds which prompted them to suggest a reduction on the use of herbicides.

And lastly, pesticides. A United Nations report released in February last year highlighted the negative consequences that pesticide practices have had on human health, the environment and society. On health, the report says that pesticides are responsible for an estimated 200,000 acute poisoning deaths each year, 99 per cent of which occur in developing countries.

The report concludes that chronic exposure to hazardous pesticides has been linked to cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, hormone disruption, developmental disorders and sterility. They can also cause numerous neurological health effects such as memory loss, loss of coordination, reduced visual ability and reduced motor skills. Other possible effects include asthma, allergies and hypersensitivity.

In the environment, pesticides cause an array of harms. Pesticides can persist in the environment for decades and pose a global threat to the entire ecological system upon which food production depends. Runoff from treated crops frequently pollute the surrounding ecosystem and beyond, with unpredictable ecological consequences. Pesticides can also decrease biodiversity of soils and contribute to nitrogen fixation, which can lead to large declines in crop yields, posing problems for food security.

Farm workers are not the only one exposed to the dangers of pesticides, but the consumers as well. Pesticide residues are commonly found in both plant and animal food sources. Traces may remain on fruits and vegetables that are extensively treated with pesticides before they reach the consumer. Pesticides also present a serious threat to drinking water, particularly in agricultural areas, which often depend on groundwater.

The UN report said that without or with minimal use of toxic chemicals, it is possible to produce healthier, nutrient-rich food, with higher yields in the longer term, without polluting and exhausting environmental resources. Organic agricultural practices which use less or without any pesticides is feasible. Studies have indicated that agroecology is capable of delivering sufficient yields to feed the entire world population and ensure that they are adequately nourished. Agroecology, considered by many as the foundation of sustainable agriculture, replaces chemicals with biology.
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