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Daily News Blog

25
Apr

Wide Range of Harmful Effects of Pesticides Documented in Literature Review

In a study from earlier this year, scientists examined research regarding the use of pesticides and adverse effects including genotoxicity.

(Beyond Pesticides, April 25, 2024) In a study from earlier this year, “Pesticides: An alarming detrimental to health and environment,” scientists compiled research from 154 articles regarding pesticide use and the adverse effects they have on the environment and human health. Among the effects of the harmful pesticides described is genotoxicity—the alteration of genetic material that results in the mutations in DNA that cause cancer. 

The authors state that “genotoxins are mutagenic chemicals, and exposure to them increases the risk of developing tumors, hormonal changes, DNA damage, and changes in the ovaries and eggs, all of which leading to cancers… The risk of DNA damage surges with increased genotoxicity in people exposed to pesticides.” In addition, the National Institute of Health states that all “pesticides are highly biologically active chemicals. They may interact with DNA and damage its structure.” Despite these documented risks, pesticide use continues to surge. 

While phased out to a considerable extent after being widely used in agriculture and residential areas, organochlorine pesticides (OCPs) like dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) or its breakdown compound dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene (DDE) continue to show up as residues in the environment and food supply. Symptoms in humans that have been exposed to these chemicals include: seizures, vomiting, anemia, rapid heart rate, and muscular pain. OCPs have also been linked to changes in the following: hematological/hepatic (blood and bone marrow), endocrine (hormones), and reproductive body systems. Most OCPs are categorized as carcinogens and are linked to genotoxicological properties. 

Organophosphates (OPs), another class of pesticides that were “touted as an eco-friendly alternative” to OCPs, have a wide body of research on their negative health effects. Glyphosate, a phosphonate within the OP family which acts by inhibiting the plant enzyme 5-enolpyruvylshikimate-3-phosphate synthase (EPSP), is most widely used. According to this study, OPs have “been linked to health issues related to endocrine and nervous systems, cellular oxidative stress, effects on the functioning of important enzymes such as cholinesterase, reduced secretion of insulin, dysregulation of cellular metabolism of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats, and increased genotoxic effects. Population-based research has suggested links between exposure to organophosphates and major health issues, such as dementia, cardiovascular illnesses, adverse effects on the reproductive system in males including the nervous system, and an elevated risk for non-lymphoma Hodgkin. Additionally, prenatal exposure to organophosphorus pesticides is related to shorter gestational times and children developing neurological issues.” Many studies have been performed to show these correlations. 

The greatest risk for pesticides lies in those who apply them. The authors of this study state: “Workers and farmers, are frequently exposed to relatively higher levels of pesticides, occupational exposure to pesticides is giving rise to more hazards. For an instance, it has been noted that farmers exhibit greater immunotoxicity of pesticides during the pesticide spraying season.” Other elevated risks for farmers’ body and mind have also been studied. 

Pesticide use dates back thousands of years, even as far as 4500 years ago when sulfur was used to control insects and mites. Starting in the 1500s, mercury and arsenic were utilized against insects, bacteria, and fungi until it was discovered in the 1940s that these metallic elements were toxic, affecting human health and staying in the soil for decades. The 19th and 20th centuries brought the invention and application of many new pesticides that were thought to be safer and more effective, only to be proven to have lethal effects and be banned. Notably, in 1962 Rachel Carson wrote “Silent Spring” to shed light on DDT and the damage it caused for over 20 years on not only bird species, but humans and the environment as well. 

Since then, pesticides on the market continue to be studied and are found to have adverse effects that include resistance. “Due to the increased quantity and frequency of pesticide applications, the targeted pests evolved and adapted to the newer environments and harsh conditions which led to an increase in the prevalence of the resurgence of pests and the appearance of pesticide-resistant species,” the authors of the study affirm. This resistance creates a vicious cycle for the introduction of additional chemicals to combat unwanted species. 

Research is ongoing into current pesticides in use, their impacts on DNA, and the link to those, especially farmers, who develop cancer after exposure. As more pesticides are being proven to have severely detrimental effects on not only our environment’s water, soil, and air but also on human health and the health of critical species (such as pollinators), higher standards needs to be set for the approval of such chemicals. Extensive testing on all pesticides and potential synergistic effects they have need to be performed, and transparency from the Environmental Protection Agency needs to be in place to close loopholes that allow for lethal chemicals to be utilized.   

Safer alternatives are currently available for the pesticides that are widely used today. Natural pesticides, also known as biopesticides, are considered “more efficient, less expensive, and ecologically sound,” based on this study. Since biopesticides are derived from natural materials, they are overall less toxic and have fewer unintended effects. As Beyond Pesticides states on their National Organic Standards page, “Under the organic regulations, only naturally derived pesticides and a small number of synthetic ingredients of low toxicity, such as boric acid, may be used. Inert ingredients in these products must be approved for organic production.” The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) has recommended to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) a process for a thorough review of all inert ingredients used in products allowed for organic production to ensure compliance with the Organic Foods Production Act. The standards in place for organic farming call for the full elimination of pesticides with harmful or even unknown effects with the adoption of a soil-based systems approach to land management that enhances biodiversity and prevents disease and infestation in plants. 

While pesticides target weeds, insects, or diseases that affect crop production and nonagricultural land management (e.g., parks and playing fields), these same chemicals damage the environment and many species, as the study indicates. Advocates say that these effects call for not only a reduction in the use of harmful chemicals, but the disuse of them with safer, organic alternatives in their place. 

Act today by writing a letter to legislators about your local community and the impact of pesticides on pollinators that are needed for our food production, as well as the need to switch to organic methods of pest management and help protect children from pesticides by telling the EPA to ban carcinogenic pesticides here. Beyond Pesticides’ mission is for the phase out of toxic petrochemical pesticides by 2032, which can be achieved through local and national change.  

An organic agricultural approach supports biodiversity, soil health, improved water quality, sustainable practices, energy efficiency, and higher food quality, in addition to preventing exposure to toxic or lethal chemicals. A world-wide shift towards organic standards for food production is a necessity to ensure the survival of all species and the environment. Stay up to date on the Daily News for studies on current pesticides and the safer alternatives to them that exist. The Gateway on Pesticide Hazards and Safe Pest Management allows for additional research on pesticides, and The Safer Choice provides resources for the public to make healthier, more informed choices.  

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

Source:  

Kaur, Rajwinder et al. “Pesticides: An alarming detrimental to health and environment.” The Science of the total environment vol. 915 (2024): 170113. doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2024.170113 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/38232846/ 

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