Chemical pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and disinfectants have been in use for so long and and in so many places that many of us don’t even give a second thought to the ongoing damage these poisons are causing the environment… and us!
Pesticides are a broad class of substances used to control, kill, or repel certain plants and animals categorized as pests. Fungicides keep mold and mildew at bay. Disinfectants kill off any bacteria that may be a threat and prevent its spread. Herbicides destroy weeds that steal nutrients from crops. Insecticides repel and kill any insects that may feed on crops.
But Aren’t these Chemicals Keeping Us Safe?
Not so much. The residues left over from these compounds are everywhere. There are at least 70 widely used pesticides in use that are classified as probable or possible human carcinogens. Pesticide residue is found in homes, schools, hospitals, workplaces, and the food supply of both people and animals.
And while we often worry about the toxic air outside (and we should), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) discovered that dangerous contaminants (including pesticides) are as much as five times more prevalent indoors as outdoors. That means you could have more residual toxins inside your house than you do in your yard!
The Link Between Pesticides and Cancer
The major danger of pesticide use is the amount of chemical residue in and on our food. Residue is left behind on the crops sold to supermarkets and food manufacturers. People purchase and ingest the food. The chemicals kill beneficial bacteria in the digestive system and wreak havoc on the immune system.
We’re being poisoned from within because our bodies have difficulty expelling and defending against the ever-present chemicals. Bear in mind that these very same pesticides were approved for use by the EPA!
To “protect” us and allay our fears, the EPA has set limits on pesticide usage on crops as well as how much they think is okay for us to ingest. However… do you really trust these Government agencies?
After all, they are the folks who banned DDT for use in the United States, but had no problem allowing it to be sold to other countries. These other countries then use it on food that is imported to the U.S.
And who is to say how much pesticide exposure is too much? For the person who rarely eats vegetables, the risk might be small. But what about the rest of us… what about the children?
Pesticides are thought to play a significant role in the incidence of childhood cancers. Children as a group are considered to be more sensitive to chemicals in the environment than the general population due to their size relative to exposure.
Exposure to pesticides does not necessarily mean that you will develop cancer, but it certainly will increase your risk. Other factors are at play such as a person’s sensitivity to a specific substance, repeated exposure, and the cumulative effects over time.
Do Pesticides Increase Cancer Risk for Farmers?
In an Agricultural Health Study (a collaborative effort from the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences), farmers were studied to determine whether or not they were at higher risk for cancer due to frequent exposure to agricultural pesticides.
What the researchers found is that farmers had lower overall death rates for heart disease and certain cancers (such as lung, bladder, and colon) than the general population. They attributed this to their lower smoking rates, healthier diet, and their physically active lifestyles.
However, cancer rates for some types of cancer (such as leukemia, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, multiple myeloma, and soft tissue sarcoma, as well as cancers of the skin, lip, stomach, brain, and prostate) appeared to be higher and were thought to be linked to work-related exposures.
The researchers suspect that exposure to high levels of pesticides in the home is a potential initiator of cancer in young children not only from early childhood exposure, but also during the preconception (via sperm) and in utero stages as well.
What Cancer Risk do Pesticides Pose to the General Population?
If you don’t work with dangerous pesticides in your daily life or spend an inordinate amount of time spraying your home garden, how much are you affected?
Numerous chemical substances are present in our environment. They are found in the air we breathe, the water we use for drinking and bathing, in the food we eat, and in the health and home products we use.
Children appear to be in the greatest danger, and not so coincidentally, childhood cancers are on the rise. Studies have found that children from homes that have a higher use of pesticides (including insecticides and herbicides) have a higher rate of cancer − especially leukemia and lymphoma. These two cancers are rare, except in children repeatedly exposed to these chemicals at home.
The risks are not limited to leukemia and lymphoma, nor is the threat only to children. A 1990 case-control study examined brain cancer rates relative to pesticide use. The researchers found that those families using pesticides had significantly higher rates of developing cancer. Subsequent studies have found consistent results.
Some cancers take longer to develop, so studies must have a longer duration in order to produce accurate results. Ongoing research is working to identify if the development of different cancers later in life is due to childhood exposure to pesticides. Cancers being studied for this factor include prostate and bladder cancer.
Professor of pediatrics and the Director of the Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit at the University of Washington, Dr. Catherine Karr, said, “We are starting to get to the place where there is enough science, it just starts to add up to say that we can’t really ignore anymore…the role of environmental factors like pesticides in health.”
How to Protect Your Family from Cancer-Causing Pesticides
You can start by choosing organic foods as often as possible. If organics aren’t an affordable or available option, properly wash your fresh fruits and vegetables at home before eating to minimize exposure.
Soak produce in a clean sink full of water and then thoroughly rinse. Do not just quickly rinse beneath the faucet. You can add ½ cup of white vinegar during the soak as well. This will effectively remove most of the chemical residue. If skins are removable and the produce is not organic, they should be peeled even if the skins are normally edible (such as potatoes).
Even organic produce should be washed! All produce is exposed to potential bacteria during growing, reaping, and shipping. The majority of food poisoning cases in the United States are due to unwashed produce, and of course there is always the risk of airborne cross-contamination in the growing fields.
6 Other Ways to Minimize the Dangers of Pesticides in Your Home
- Stop pests from getting in your home – Avoid the need for indoor pesticides by repairing all of the cracks in your home where pests could invade. Mice need less than a ¼” gap to squeeze through. Caulk around windows, pipes, and faucets that may provide them entry.
- Clean up immediately after meals – Make sure to put food away and wash dishes immediately after a meal to discourage insects or rodents from invading. Should these fail, consider organic sprays and natural solutions that do not contain chemicals, such as old-fashioned mouse traps and boric acid. Always follow the directions on any of these products used in the home.
- Go natural for pest control elsewhere in the home and garden too – Home mixtures can be helpful in ridding your lettuce of hungry leaf eaters or your basement of spiders. Check into homemade recipes using non-toxic ingredients such as vinegar, lemon, and essential oils to accomplish the same results as those dangerous chemicals.
- Open the windows – As mentioned, indoor air pollution is toxic. When possible, let in some fresh air and consider air-purifying plants.
- Invest in quality soil – In the garden, organic soil is your best defense. This produces strong plants able to fight off or survive some insects without the use of sprays. Mulch, manure, and organic compost are the best amendments for soil.
- Grow the best plants for your area – Plants that grow well in Alabama may not do as well in Michigan without the use of chemical helpers, so stick with plants for your specific zone. Some insects can be beneficial to a garden as they can aid in keeping the bad bugs away. Do your research and know every single aspect of what you’re growing and how it’s grown. If you’re especially adventurous, consider canning those fresh vegetable to help you make healthy meals during the months when your garden may not be producing.
You may not be able to avoid 100% of dangerous pesticides in your food or your environment. But, you can learn to control, reduce your exposure, and thus minimize the risks of cancer. New studies may shed more light on ways we can all protect ourselves from chemical pollutants.
In the meantime, clean up your diet, lifestyle, and environment as best you can. Educate yourself and empower your family to make the changes necessary to provide the healthiest home atmosphere possible.
Pesticides are a broad class of substances used to control, kill, or repel certain plants and animals categorized as pests. Fungicides, disinfectants, herbicides, and insecticides all fall under the umbrella of pesticides.
There are at least 70 widely used pesticides in use that are classified as probable or possible human carcinogens. The EPA discovered that dangerous contaminants (including pesticides) are as much as five times more prevalent indoors as outdoors. This means you could have more residual toxins inside your house than you do in your yard!
The major danger of pesticide use is the amount of chemical residue in and on our food.
Pesticides are thought to play a significant role in the incidence of childhood cancers as children are more sensitive to chemicals in the environment. Farmers are also at risk and cancer rates for some types of cancer appear to be higher in farmers and even in the children of farm workers.
The best ways to minimize your exposure to pesticides is to eat organic foods as often as possible. If organics aren’t an option, properly wash (and peel when possible) your fresh fruits and vegetables before eating. Other ways to reduce your risk include:
- Stop pests from getting in your home
- Clean up immediately after meals
- Go natural for pest control elsewhere in the home and garden
- Open the windows
- Invest in quality soil for gardens
- Grow the best plants for your area