Pesticides: Why They Are So Bad and What Can You Do?

Written by Greenwise Team
Published on July 13, 2018
Pesticides are getting a bad rap these days and for good reason. One of the latest studies out of the UK shows that even at low levels, pesticides adversely affect our bees and other wildlife. Plus, there’s our own health to worry about. Glyphosate (a.k.a. Monsanto’s Roundup®) is the most widely used herbicide in the world, and hundreds of lawsuits alleging Roundup weed killer causes cancer cleared a big hurdle when a federal judge ruled that cancer victims and their families could present expert testimony linking the herbicide to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Neonicotinoids (aka neonics) are one of the most common pesticides used in agriculture and are also used extensively by home and garden centers. Did you know that many “bee-friendly” garden plants have been pre-treated with these bee-killing pesticides? Exposure to neonics can kill bees directly and also makes them more susceptible to other impacts like pests, diseases, loss of habitat, and a changing climate.

Glyphosate Is Wiping Out Milkweed

In the United States, glyphosate is wiping out milkweed, which monarch butterflies rely on as the only food for their young. Use of glyphosate has increased dramatically in the past two decades since Monsanto launched its genetically engineered Roundup®-Ready corn, soy, canola, and cotton. After reviewing more than 10 years of research on how pesticides impact bees, Royal Holloway, University of London came out with a study showing that even low doses commonly used in agriculture hurt the bees’ learning and memory. The study, published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, found the bees’ ability to remember floral scents were harmed even by pesticides not covered by Europe’s recent ban on neonicotinoids. Ohio State University entomologist Reed Johnson, who was not involved in the study, told Popular Science that the question for bee advocates is, “Can pesticides ever be used safely around bees?” This study “suggests that the answer is ‘no,’” he wrote in an email. Europe Is Getting it Right by Banning Neocnicotinoids Recently, most of Europe has implemented a ban on neonicotinoid insecticides. Neonicotinoids (neonics) are a class of neuro-active insecticides chemically similar to nicotine. When first introduced, neonicotinoids were thought to have low toxicity to many insects, but recent research has suggested potential toxicity to honey bees and other beneficial insects even with low levels of contact and even from non-neonicotinoids. Look at How These Insecticides Are Used in the U.S.  Since 2013 neonicotinoids have been used In the U.S. on about 95 percent of corn and canola crops, the majority of cotton, sorghum, and sugar beets, and about half of all soybeans. They have been used on most fruit and vegetables, including apples, cherries, peaches, oranges, berries, leafy greens, tomatoes, and potatoes, to cereal grains, rice, nuts, and wine grapes. Imidacloprid is possibly the most widely used insecticide, both within the neonicotinoids and in the worldwide market. Glyphosate, Found in Roundup, Impacts Our Health A recent global glyphosate pilot study conducted by an international team of researchers finds that exposure to the herbicide glyphosate results in adverse health effects at levels below those regulators deem “safe” or acceptable. The study found that doses of either glyphosate or Roundup considered “safe” by EPA produce genotoxicity, alterations in sexual development, and changes in the intestinal microbiome. Prior to this study being released, glyphosate has been linked to cancer by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, and it’s listed on California’s Prop 65 (“chemicals known to cause cancer”) list. In a story published on Beyond Pesticides, they reported that the researchers in this study are aiming to provide a truly independent, comprehensive evaluation of the risks posed by glyphosate-based herbicides. How Do We Protect Our Children? According to the Midwest Pesticide Action Center, children are especially vulnerable to the health effects of pesticides. They face daily exposure to these toxic chemicals where they live, learn and play, at a time when their bodies are most susceptible to damage.
  • Per pound, children eat over three times the food, drink two times the water, and breathe over two times as much air as adults. This means that in relation to their size, children receive higher doses of toxins like pesticides just from breathing air and consuming food and water.
  • The National Academy of Sciences landmark report titled, “Pesticides and the Diets of Infants and Children,” estimates that 50 percent of lifetime pesticide exposure occurs during the first five years of life.
Glyphosate is not the only pesticide that we and our children are exposed to in schools and parks, but it is widely used and portrayed as “safe.” According to Beyond Pesticides, we can protect children by demanding our local governments and school districts adopt these policies:
  • A precautionary approach to use of toxic chemicals –when in doubt, throw it out;
  • Organic land management practices, which create healthy environments and playing fields by building healthy soils;
  • Techniques not reliant on pesticides;
  • Limiting chemical use to an allowed list of organic-compatible fertilizers and pest control materials; and
  • An organic land management policy that protects children, families, and the local ecology.
Demand that Your Government Protects You Despite evidence that pesticides and Roundup’s active ingredient glyphosate causes developmental effects following low-dose exposure, The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) still allows Roundup and neonicotinoid insecticides to be used. If the EPA refuses to protect us, then as citizens we need to demand that our government provides the necessary protection. Since 2003, Representatives Blumenauer and McGovern have introduced legislation to protect pollinators, called Saving America’s Pollinators Act. You can call your local representative and ask them to please support this legislation. To learn more, click here for a video on how this legislation aims to make a difference. Not sure who to contact? This site will give you a complete list of your elected representatives, along with pertinent information about them. It’s easy. Just type in your street address. You can also pressure your local garden centers and hardware stores. Check out how Friends of the Earth are doing just that to get Home Depot, Walmart, Ace Hardware, and others to take bee-killing pesticides off their shelves. Beyond Pesticides:  Take Advantage of this Reliable & Informative Resource The Beyond Pesticides website has a lot of resources to help you get the ball rolling to protect yourselves and your neighborhoods from pesticides. It’s a helpful and reliable resource that makes it easy to find good information and learn about the latest research studies and laws relating to pesticides. This site lets you search by state, so you can easily find any current local information about Illinois. For example, recent legislation relating to pesticides and the environment. This year, both Oak Park and Evanston have approved resolutions to repeal the State Pesticide Preemption law. (Preemption means one level of government can override the laws of a lower level government.) Both these resolutions urge the state of Illinois to repeal the preemption of local government regulation of pesticides and re-establish the right of local home rule governments to adopt pesticide restrictions on public and private land within their jurisdiction, as they deem appropriate. For more information: The Village of Oak Park has approved a Resolution in Support of the Repeal of the State Pesticide Preemption, and the City of Evanston has approved a Resolution Urging the State of Illinois to Repeal Preemption of Local Regulation of Pesticides.