Three out of four homes use pesticides to kill bugs, rodents, spiders and other pests. But studies clearly show that exposure to pesticides over time can cause a variety of health problems including birth defects, nerve damage and cancer, among others. Acute exposures can be even more serious and lead to seizures, coma or even cardiac arrest and death.
What are pesticides?
A pesticide is any chemical or biological substance that is used to kill pests. Usually, pesticides are sprayed, but they can also be used as a liquid, stick or powder. When sprayed, pesticides form droplets that build up on surfaces and become airborne and inhalable.
Pesticides can be classified generally into two categories:
- Conventional: These products are much more likely to be hazardous to humans, pets or other beneficial insects. Often, conventional pesticides leave a residue that kills insects other than those intended.
- Examples: Popular wasp and hornet sprays, water-soluble chemicals in the ground that are taken up by plants, and chemicals such as Malathion. – People who were exposed to enough malathion to become sick felt nauseated or vomited, had muscle tremors, cramps, weakness, shortness of breath, a slowed heart rate, headache, abdominal pain and diarrhea. Learn more about the dangers of Malathio exposure.
- Low-impact: These pesticides are less toxic to people and pets and have a minimal impact on the environment, including beneficial insects. Low-impact pesticides are generally considered “greener” than conventional pesticides. Some, though not all, are labeled “organic” because they come from natural sources.
- Examples: Many popular bug baits, insect-growth regulators for fleas and grubs, and citrus-oil spray.A better way to control pests
- The best way to avoid unnecessary exposure to pesticides is to refrain from using them. While that may not always be possible or practical, here are recommended steps to reduce or eliminate your need for pesticides:
- Organic pesticides are those composed entirely of naturally occurring substances. This does not necessarily mean they are safer or less toxic than conventional or low-impact pesticides. While many organic pesticides are reasonably low in toxicity (such as neem oil), some (such as rotenone) can be even more toxic than conventional pesticides. Learn more about Rotenone here.
- Spray only near entries and only if needed. The idea is to keep various pests from entering the home in the first place.
- Keep your house clean and dry. Most insects and rodents are attracted to food and water. Keep bathrooms and kitchens as dry as possible.
- Seal off entryways. Cut off access for pests — seal cracks and crevices, put screens over vents, and repair holes in screens.
- Lay traps for insects and rodents. Instead of relying on pesticides, vacuum bugs and nests where they are found in and around the home.
- Choose low-impact or organic pesticides. For example, use boric acid on cracks and crevices to help get rid of ants and other crawling insects.
- Minimize exposure to pesticides. If you choose to use pesticides, follow instructions carefully. This includes using gloves, masks or goggles when recommended.
Pesticides are also in food
Another significant source of exposure to pesticides is in the foods we eat. In fact, 5.6 billion pounds of agricultural pesticides are used worldwide in farming every year. The best way to avoid this additional risk of pesticide exposure is by purchasing and consuming organic foods that are grown and/or produced without synthetic pesticides.
By eating pesticide-free foods and learning to control household pests with minimal chemical use, you can reduce unnecessary health risks and help improve the environment. For more information on managing home pests safely using environmentally sound methods, visit http://www.nrdc.org.