Pesticides: Is it worth the risk?

Pesticides: Is it worth the risk?

What’s Really Going On In Your Home and Office

A young boy lies limp in a California hospital bed while his mother and doctors hover anxiously. The only movement comes from his arms that twitch convulsively as he fights to hang onto life. In Pennsylvania, seven children are plagued with unexplained headaches, diarrhea, leg pains, and fever while at school. After several years of work-related exposure, Florida employees are stricken with cancer. And across the country millions of people develop circulatory, respiratory and nerve disorders at work and within their own homes. 

While all these illnesses are derived from entirely different sources including clothing, tap water, routine cleaning, and lawn care products, they all have one foundational source in common: pesticides. It’s no wonder, law firms are rushing to the airwaves to solicit clients for sure-win class action lawsuits. Pesticides are lurking everywhere and are at the root of many evolving diagnosed and mysterious illnesses.  

So, what exactly constitutes a pesticide? 

I’m not an expert, but my research uncovered there are numerous chemical compounds that fall under the heading of pesticides with most utilized types being herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides. Simply put, a pesticide is a carefully tested combination of substances that kills, or lessons, the threat from weeds, insects, rodents, bacteria, and fungi. 

To better understand the danger of pesticides a brief history is necessary. 

For decades outdoor pesticides have been the answer for a nuisance-free lawn and fruitful garden. Farmers have benefited from the use of sprayed herbicides as they lesson erosion from over-tilled land and stop the spread of deadly epidemics like Typhus. Nor should the average homeowner be plagued with destructive and harmful nuisances such as rodents and pests. Additionally, countries historically unable to defend against infestation are now able to prevent devastation of crops thanks to the invention of these chemical compounds. 

When pesticides were first introduced during the 1940s, they appeared to be the miracle cure combating agricultural, plant, and animal pests. Farmers, householders, and business and manufacturing owners now had an answer in products such as the familiar dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, more commonly known as DDT. This highly toxic agent interfered with normal nerve activity of pests, slowly killing them from the inside out. And it worked, too well. In the day, DDT was hailed as a miracle pest eradication method and dusted on clothing, furniture, and flooring as well as on crops for years.

In addition to its ease of use, one of the favored characteristics of this, and other related synthetic chemical compounds, is its stability—not breaking down and dissolving easily. This provided the advantage of long-term pest control. And spoiler alert, it is still embedded in many fields, factories, farms, and natural resources today. Thanks to its rigidity combined with swift absorption in soil, plants, water, and animals, the presence of DDT and related chemicals persist.

It was at this point in history when scientists and activists such as Roy Barker and Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring, issued warnings provoking manufacturers, food processors, farm bureaus and some forward-thinking government officials into a debate over pesticide risks.

Eventually, these chemical compounds were discovered to be the fatal source interrupting food chains and resulting in the deaths of numerous living creatures. Although most of these pesticides were eventually banned from, or limited in use, within the United States their destructive impact had been made, and unfortunately, are evident in products sold today.

But if banned, why do pesticides continue to be a hot issue in environmental and legal circles?

To begin with, unless you’re a toxicologist or chemist, it may be difficult to accurately interpret and comprehend the effects of the ingredients in yard, home and business sprays sitting on the shelf of your local hardware store. Furthermore, the average consumer typically doesn’t read the ingredient list or warning labels on the container of weed control or office sanitization cleaner beyond the directions for application. Although we’re offered some assurance from governing bodies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it does little to decrease the usage and spread of potentially dangerous chemicals. 

With such toxic revelations, government agencies have been swamped with testing, approving, or eliminating various pesticides that have since emerged on the market. In the meantime, we are still fighting the presence of these readily available contaminants and the lingering effects of those historically utilized. The National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC) is a cooperative effort of Oregon State University and the EPA whose staff of qualified pesticide specialists and toxicologists conduct continuous studies on over tens of thousands of different products still registered for use in the United States since 1947. The NPIC along with other organizations such as the Environmental Protection Bureau report on the potentially destructive efforts that make up the “active” ingredients of commercial pesticides. In one report, it disclosed that many of these “active” ingredients were registered with the EPA prior to 1978 when congress passed stronger pesticide-testing requirements and haven’t been re-evaluated since.  

In his report entitled Poison in the Grass, author Nathan Diegelman expresses concern about the additional ingredients of pesticides, sometime call ‘inert’ or ‘inactive’ that are used as product fillers. He shares that these chemicals “can be just as generous…and include components of wartime defoliants like Agent Orange, nerve-gas type insecticides and artificial hormones.”

Lately much concern has developed over household exposure to toxins, both within the home and in commercial and education facilities above and beyond traditional pesticides. But thanks to activists like Erin Brockovich, most Americans are familiar with illegal dumping and faulty storage of toxic chemical waste and pesticides by manufacturing facilities including Pacific Gas and Electric, Lehigh Valley Railroad and Wolverine Worldwide to name a few. She’s also stepped up as a spokeswoman against public entities covering up leaching chemicals such as lead in the water in Midland, Texas and Flint, Michigan. 

Whether tracking inside pesticides indoors, inhaling airborne aerosols, playing in a freshly sprayed lawn, or through accidental consumption, children and pets are more likely to be at risk. Due to their size, they are not only physically closer to the distributed pesticides, but their developing bodies, as opposed to fully developed adults, have a harder time eliminating or resisting toxins. They are a highly vulnerable population. The Human Society for the United States, the federal Citizen Information Center and the EPA provide information on keeping a healthy home along with tips on protecting pets and children from home pesticide poisoning. 

And thankfully, there are many grassroots organizations that have brought the issues of pesticide poisoning in children to the attention of government administrators. Even though they are faced with constant political suppression, the Children’s Environmental Coalition (CHEC) is working closely with the EPA to fight children’s exposure to toxic chemicals in all arenas and call on parents’ help to continue to support this movement. 

Regardless of the overwhelming amount of case studies, research, reports, and statistics relaying to their negative effects, pesticides continue to be widely used.

So, what can the average consumer do to help prevent pesticide toxicity and environmental destruction? The most obvious answer is to stop using. This however is much easier said than done. After all it is much too convenient to pick up the phone for the monthly lawn service, spray those annoying dandelions with fertilizers, dust the roses and trees to protect against fungus, and combat those pesky insects and rodents with bait and sprays. 

But thankfully there are other alternatives to choose from including ‘biocontrol.’

Selecting pest resistant species of plants, keeping gardens clean from residues and droppings and choosing to use organically accepted insecticides are just a few of the options available. Also, there are many beneficial organisms that act as natural deterrents to pests such as purple martins, ladybugs and patristic wasps that feed on destructive insects. And according to the Washington Toxics Coalition (WTC) the use of commercially produced “broad spectrum insecticides kill both pests and beneficial pest-predators indiscriminately,” providing another argument for why the consumer should consider fewer toxic products. Today, insecticidal soaps, horticultural oils, corn gluten-based herbicides and other natural alternatives are readily available everywhere. 

Even with adopting careful measures to prevent chemical poisoning and unwanted exposure, the fight against pesticide contamination will continue to be a process of education and activism. Exposure from use of illegal pesticides and common misuse can be as close as right next door, at work, or even within the boundaries of the school playground. And we must not overlook the fact that food, water, and air are possible transporters of chemicals back to our homes. But taking the time to read labels, inquire about regulations, and investigating commercial building and educational facility policies can seem overwhelming and time consuming.

It’s unfortunate, but even with my house windows closed tightly, I know when my neighbors’ lawns are sprayed with pesticides. I can detect the faint odor of the commercial chemicals applied and cringe each time I see the lake behind our house ‘treated’ for unwanted organic matter. When a chemical is so strong you can smell it within your home, and certainly out on a walk, it should give you pause. Still, there seems to be a higher priority on lawns looking like golf courses over human, wildlife, and planet health. 

Thankfully, help is available through toll free hotlines and the Internet. And with the overwhelming educational resources and political push from groups like the CHEC and the WTC, the foundation exists for a healthier future for our families and planet. Still, we must remember that the burden falls on the consumer to become informed and take the steps towards positive change. It’s easy to fall into the trap of trusting ‘experts’ without conducting the necessary research that will support a confident choice. Now is the time to take a second look at what we decide to pass on to our families, our pets, and our environment. In other words, it’s time to do our homework on what we put on our homes, offices, buildings, and lawns today that will ensure a greener tomorrow.

And while I’m certain there will be numerous oppositions to my argument, I would be remiss in not sharing what I’ve learned. It’s my hope that we can all weigh past infractions against future decisions and come away making more informed choices. 

Here’s to a chemical-free future and a planet abundant with wildlife and resources for our future generation. 

This guest blog was contributed by Kim Monaghan, published author, creative and corporate writer. Learn more about her books and works at


*Always consult with your physician prior to experimenting with any exercises, recipes, health advice and nutrition initiatives shared in this blog.