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Daily News Blog

07
Jul

Pesticides Exacerbate the Threats of Biodiversity Collapse and the Climate Emergency

(Beyond Pesticides, July 7, 2022) A review article published in the International Journal on Environmental Sciences highlights how pervasive pesticide exposure and climate change threaten global species biodiversity. Now more than ever, people are changing their sentiment toward sustainability, with two-thirds of consumers stating the importance of limiting climate change impacts and 88 percent supporting greater pollution reduction. The relationship between climate change and biodiversity—a “distinct but related issue”— is often overlooked in the regulation of the pesticide industry. Climate change and biodiversity loss are interdependent, and an adverse impact on one can bolster adverse effects on the other. Biodiversity is intricate and affects all environmental ecosystems—from oceans and freshwater to forests and soils; it encompasses all life forms on earth. Without biodiversity, food production, energy production, clean water, fertile soil, sustained air quality, and climate will suffer.

The globe is currently going through the Holocene Extinction, Earth’s 6th mass extinction, with one million species of plants and animals at risk. With the increasing rate of biodiversity loss, advocates say it is essential for government agencies to hold the pesticide industry accountable for the direct (i.e., excessive agrochemical use) and indirect (i.e., water pollution from run-off) impacts on ecosystems. The review notes, “The enormous use of pesticides becomes the predominant environmental contaminants. Once these pesticides are released in the environment, they are metabolized in a short time whereas others persist over a longer period and can accumulate in the soil and water and badly influence the widespread biodiversity and its buffering mechanism.”

Pesticides’ Overall Impact on the Environment and Species Biodiversity 

Pesticide residues readily contaminate all ecosystems and are prevalent in soils, water (solid and liquid), and the surrounding air. Scientific literature demonstrates pesticides’ long history of adverse effects on the environment, including wildlifebiodiversity, and human health. The impacts of pesticides on wildlife biodiversity are extensive and expose animals in urban, suburban, and rural areas to unnecessary risks. Pesticides can affect animals through direct or indirect exposure, including drift, secondary poisoning, runoff, and volatility. Some animals encounter direct spraying, while others may consume plants or prey contaminated with pesticides. According to a 2016 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency assessment, two commonly used pesticides (chlorpyrifos and malathion) are “likely to adversely affect” 97% of species listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Furthermore, a more recent EPA assessment finds the excessive use of the most popular herbicide, (weedkiller) glyphosate, threatens 93 percent of all endangered species. This EPA announcement was released only a few days following the agency’s report on atrazine (another commonly used toxic herbicide) causing harm to more than half of endangered species. However, biodiversity buffers against damage from climate change—for example, by protecting shorelines from storm damage, and providing plant coverage on soil surfaces to prevent erosion while reducing the need for toxic chemicals that deregulate ecosystem function.

Climate Change and Pesticide Implications

The climate crisis adds another level of concern, especially regarding passive pesticide and microbial exposure from snowmelt and permafrost. The Arctic has become a sink for these toxic chemicals, as studies find evidence that airborne Arctic chemical concentrations are comparable to industrialized regions in the U.S., Europe, and Asia. Additional investigations find the presence of chemicals and microbes in soil and ice samples taken from Arctic regions. The Arctic is highly susceptible to global pollution, as warmer air contaminated with industrial and agricultural chemicals from manufacturing regions moves poleward. Environmental pollutants can condense into snowflakes high in the atmosphere and deposit onto the Arctic surface. Moreover, approximately 1,700 billion metric tons of carbon, including GHGs like carbon dioxide and methane, are present in permafrost, over 51 times more than the amount of carbon released from 2019 fossil fuel emissions. The remaining organic matter, frozen in permafrost, will decay after thawing, further increasing atmospheric carbon emissions.  

This review adds to the growing literature demonstrating disproportionate warming in arctic regions. Arctic thawing has implications for carbon release and landscape changes that are difficult to predict. As global warming progresses, exposure concerns will increase significantly, especially individuals more vulnerable to the toxic effects of chemical exposure. To mitigate the risks associated with chemical exposure from pesticides, advocates say the manufacturing and use of pesticides need addressing, first and foremost.

It falls to global leaders to curtail the continued manufacturing of chemical pollutants that readily contaminate polar regions. Recently, agrochemicals, includingpesticides and fertilizers, became the leading contributor to environmental sulfur emissions. If pesticide use and manufacturing are amplifying the impacts of the climate crisis, advocates argue that it is essential to effect change by enhancing pesticide policy and regulation that eliminates use. 

The review highlights the need to eliminate the hazards associated with pesticide use and exposure to mitigate the harmful health and environmental consequences. Shifting to organic farming and land management reduces emissions associated with pesticide manufacturing, use, and ecological persistence. In addition, certified organic operations are required to conserve biodiversity by maintaining or enhancing all-natural resources, including soil, water, wetlands, and woodlands.”

The review concludes, “The bitter experience of the use of synthetic pesticides and presence of rich flora in our country attracts the attention of scientists to develop an effective and economic control method by exploring the biopesticides [e.g., organic]. So, it has become necessary to evolve control measures, which may be selective in action and relatively harmless to non-target organisms and human beings. Thus, pesticides of plant origin are preferred over synthetic pesticides because of nontoxic to the environment and human beings.”

Chemical contamination is ubiquitous in terrestrial and marine environments. Thus, environmental advocates say it is essential for government agencies to recognize how previous and ongoing use of chemical pollutants can impact present-day species. Likewise, collaborative, global monitoring of chemical pollutants can help leaders identify the effect on vulnerable species and the most effective unified global strategy. Animals and humans occupy the same space, so both will experience similar declines in general health, fitness, and well-being. Therefore, many advocates urge the phasing out of toxic pesticide use to protect global wildlife, especially threatened species. Advocating for local and state pesticide reform policies can protect wildlife from pesticide contamination. For more information on pesticide impacts on wildlife, visit Beyond Pesticides’ wildlife page.

Furthermore, climate crisis implications like melting glaciers present an ongoing concern over the levels of chemical concentrations in waterways from DDT, its metabolites, and other persistent organic pollutants trapped in ice. A meaningful effort to protect the nation’s and world’s waterways requires, according to experts, eliminating the use of pesticides that make their way into drinking water.

Replacing pesticides with organic, nontoxic alternatives is crucial for safeguarding public health, particularly in communities vulnerable to pesticide toxicity. Organic agriculture has many health and environmental benefits, which curtail the need for toxic pesticides. Regenerative organic agriculture revitalizes soil health through carbon sequestration while reducing pests and generating higher profits than chemical-intensive agriculture. Learn more about the adverse health and environmental effects chemical-intensive farming poses for various crops and how eating organic produce reduces pesticide exposure. For additional information, see the Beyond Pesticides’ webpage on organic agriculture.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: International Journal on Environmental Sciences

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