According to the Environmental Protection Agency, pesticides are substances or mixtures that prevent, destroy, mitigate or repel a pest. The type of pest repelled may be insects, rodents, other living creatures, microorganisms, fungi or even plant life. Defoliants, desiccants and plant regulators are also considered pesticides in the United States.
The following pesticides are commonly found in households:
- Roach sprays and repellents
- Insect repellents
- Rodent poisons
- Flea and tick sprays, powders and pet collars
- Disinfectants and sanitizers
- Mold and mildew sprays
- Weed killers and other lawn and garden sprays
- Swimming pool chemicals
Pesticides may be a chemical, biological, antimicrobial or disinfectant device employed to eradicate a pest. Primarily used to prevent irritation and disease in humans, plants and animals, they are also effective in preventing harm to food during production, processing, storage, transportation or marketing. Pesticides also protect agricultural and wood products and in some cases, pesticides act as food preservatives.
Seventy-five percent of American households used at least one pesticide within their home interior in the past year. The most frequently used pesticides are insecticides and disinfectants. Eighty percent of human exposures to pesticides occur indoors and up to 12 different pesticides exist in measurable amounts in the air inside the average home.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, pesticides are designed to kill, thus they are toxic by nature and dangerous to humans. Some highly toxic pesticides can be carcinogenic, mutagenic or cause reproduction hazards. Many are known to disrupt the endocrine system and many are persistent, biocaccumulative and toxic (PBT), requiring expert handling. Symptoms of dangerous inhalation or other exposure include:
- Muscle twitching
- Tingling sensations
- Wheezing or other respiratory difficulty
Some examples of general pesticide failure include:
- In December of 1997, a child was dangerously exposed to aldicarb, a bug insecticide. The incidence resulted in near-fatality.
- A child was poisoned after mowing his home lawn that had been sprayed with pesticides.
- In September of 1986, two unlicensed Orkin exterminators neglected to check the air as required inside a home after doing pesticide work there, resulting in two deaths.
- On July 8, 2002 in California, Wester Farm Service applied metam-sodium to the carrot and potato crops of Kirschenmann Farms. The pesticide drifted into the homes of 84 residents who later sued both Wester and Kirschenmann, winning $775,000.
The American Association of Poison Control Centers reported that 79,000 children were exposed to pesticides, many of whom experienced toxic reactions, in 1990. Children are most susceptible to pesticide harm. The Natural Resources Defense Council has documented that children with early exposure to pesticides have higher rates of birth defects, brain cancers and leukemia.
Over 95 percent of both sprayed insecticides and herbicides reach living creatures, air, water and soil they were not intended to reach. This is called “pesticide drift.” In 1993, a study by the United States National Research Council stated that the major source of pesticide exposure for children and babies is food.
One of every 16 calls to the Poison Control Center relates to pesticide poisoning, which amounted to a total of 97,278 instances of pesticide poisoning calls in 1996. Half of those were associated with children under the age of six.
Adult exposure to pesticides is said to increase the risk of early-onset Parkinson’s Disease by 400 percent. Other problems resulting from pesticide poisoning include long-term neurological concerns such as reduced attention span, diminished coordination, short-term memory problems, decreased stamina, aggression and anti-social behavior.
- In 2004, Nature’s Value Ginseng capsules sold under the Vitamin Shoppe brand were recalled due to contamination with pesticides.
- Trapold Farms recalled 638 dozen-pack cases of celery root in 2005 due to linuron pesticide contamination.