The 1962 release of Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring, alerted the public to the hazards of toxic chemicals. Since that time, we have learned a lot about the dangers that pesticides pose to humans and the environment. However, since Carson’s book was published, annual pesticide use has continuously increased in both quantities applied and numbers of registered active ingredients.
These sprays, dusts, and aerosols are now applied almost universally to farms, gardens, forests, and homes – nonselective chemicals that have the power to kill every insect, the “good” and the “bad,” to still the song of birds and the leaping of fish in the streams, to coat the leaves with a deadly film, and to linger on in soil – all this though the intended target may be only a few weeds or insects. Can anyone believe it is possible to lay down such a barrage of poisons on the surface of the earth without making it unfit for all life? They should not be called “insecticides,” but “biocides.” – Rachel Carson, Silent Spring
- Each year, an estimated 10 trillion gallons of untreated stormwater runs into local waterways, picking up the pesticides applied to outdoor areas, like farms, parks, and lawns with it.
- The U.S. Geological Survey’s report, “Pesticides in the Nation’s Streams and Ground Water, 1992-2001,” found pesticides in 96 percent of all fish, 100 percent of all surface waters, and 33 percent of major aquifers studied.
Drinking Water Supplies
Under the Safe Drinking Water Act (1974), public water systems are required to test drinking water for certain contaminants, including commonly used pesticides such as Atrazine, 2,4-D, and Glyphosate. Due to inadequate monitoring and weak regulations, pesticides are still found in high concentrations in some drinking water sources.
- Atrazine is one such pesticide. See Natural Resources Defense Council’s piece, “Poisoning the Well: How the EPA is Ignoring Atrazine Contamination in Surface and Drinking Water in the Central United States” for more information on the extent to which this toxic chemical is threatening our water resources.
Pesticides are toxic chemicals designed to kill. The killing power of most of these toxins is not specific and will often kill or injure non-target species.
Birds: According to the American Bird Conservancy:
- 672 million birds are directly exposed to pesticides each year from agricultural use alone, and
- 67 million of them will die as result of this exposure.
Amphibians: More than 75 million pounds of atrazine, a common herbicide, are used each year on farms across the nation.
- In waterways that contain atrazine, ten percent of male frogs developed into females. Sadly, the effects are observed at exposure levels deemed safe by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Pollinators: One of every three bites of food we eat is from a crop pollinated by honey bees. Honey bees are disappearing across the country, putting $15 billion worth of fruit, vegetables, nuts, and field crops at risk each year.
- Researchers call the mass disappearance Colony Collapse Disorder, and they estimate that nearly one-third of all honeybee colonies in the country have vanished.
- Over the past decade, dozens of published, peer-reviewed studies have linked bee declines to pesticide use resulting in the European Union implementing a two-year ban on the use of certain pesticides called neonicotinoids in 2013. Neonicotinoids are 10,000 times more toxic to bees than other insecticides.
The production of pesticides is an energy-intensive process that uses significant amounts of electricity, resulting in the release of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas.
- Production of pesticides for agricultural purposes alone results in the release of 72 million tons of carbon dioxide. To put this in perspective, this number is equal to the carbon dioxide emissions associated with the yearly use of 15,000,000 passenger vehicles.
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