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Pesticides and Health

Pesticides and Health

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Published by: TheGalileoGroup on May 15, 2010
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01/25/2013

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PESTICIDES AND HEALTH
1. INTRODUCTION
The use of pesticide has increased rapidlyover the past decades. Many people may beexposed to pesticides, including workers onfarms and in factories as well as consumersand communities. There are many ways inwhich pesticides may threaten the health of humans and the safety and integrity of theenvironment. This section describes in somedetail the health hazards of pesticides and therisks from different exposures. We examinedifferent ways in which exposures can occur and also give some explanation about how tointerpret data on pesticide risks. Lastly, we present a few examples of differentalternatives to pesticides so that allstakeholders and interested people can participate in discussions around pesticide policy in an informed manner.
1.1 What are pesticides?
Pests are flies,insects or mouldsthat destroy crops, plants and wood.Some pests areresponsible focausing or spreadingdiseases in human(mosquitoestransmit malaria,snails carry bilharzia). Pesticides are the different types of chemicals used to kill these pests. We talk of 
fungicides
as chemicals that destroy mouldsand fungi, and
insecticides
as chemicals todestroy unwanted insects.
Herbicides
are pesticides used to kill weeds and grass so asto protect the crop.Pesticides are used in farming to promotecrop production (get bigger yields). Farmingtoday has become dependent on usingchemicals. This is because higher and higher yields are expected demanding the use of more vigorous pesticides. Some pests are alsodeveloping resistance to pesticides. Becausethe chemicals cannot control the pestsanymore, more and newer pesticides arehaving to be used.Pesticides are also used in other settings. TheHealth Authorities may use pesticides tocontrol pests that transmit disease. Householdmay be treated to get rid of household pests.Wooden poles and materials used fotelephone lines and railway sleepers may betreated to preserve them for longer use. Thismeans that pesticides are used in manydifferent ways and people may have differentchances and ways of being exposed to pesticides.
1.2 How are pesticides applied?
Pesticides usually come in different formssuch as powder, granules or concentrates thathave to be mixed with water before beingsprayed. Generally, there should be cleainstructions about how much to mix in order for the spray to be effective. Pesticides may be sprayed manually, using a backpack, or using mechanical means from a pump behinda tractor. Some farming activities require the pesticide spray to reach the tops of trees, so itreleases a large cloud of fine mist (called amist blower). However, if the tractor isspraying the pesticide downward from a fixed
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 boom at the back, there is less manualhandling of the pesticide and less release of the spray into the air.Manual methods (such as using a backpack or handspray) are used in domestic use, sprayingto control malaria, or by small-scale farmerswho cannot afford expensive spray equipmentor whose farms are too small to warrant usinga tractor.Sometimes, an aeroplane can be used to spray pesticides, particularly if there is a very largesurface area to cover or the land is too wet for a tractor to drive in. This will release a finespray at a height above the ground over thearea treated.Certain pesticides come in the form of a gasand are released from capsules or canisters.The gas then spreads throughout the area andthis is called fumigation. This method is usedto apply a strong pesticide in a warehouse or to treat soil when re-planting. When soil istreated by fumigation, it is usually coveredwith a plastic sheet to prevent the gas fromescaping. People who enter the fumigatedarea will breathe in the gas if they have no protection. Pesticides are sometimes also usedto fumigate food products. Fumigation is usedin grain mills and dried fruit factories and onsome farms when the field or orchard is beingreplanted.
2. HEALTH EFFECTS OF PESTICIDES
There are different types of effects caused by pesticides on human health. The two maintypes of effects are Acute Effects and ChronicEffects:
 Effects that happen quickly (acutely), usually following exposure to a large (or unusuallyexcessive) amount of the pesticide. These arecalled 
acute
effects.
An example of this is the poisoning of the liver,kidneys and lungs thatfollows when somebodyswallows the concentrate of the herbicide paraquat. A person poisoned in this waywill be very ill, requiringhospitalisation as theiorgans start to fail, often inan Intensive Care Unit. However, acuteeffects can also be less severe, and insome cases, can mimic the symptoms of a bad flu, making it difficult to diagnose thefact that the person is suffering from pesticide poisoning.
 Effects that happen slowly over a long period of time. These we call 
chronic
effects, and include such diseases such as cancer and nerve damage.
Chronic effects usually are related to long-term exposure at low doses, frequently in away that a person is unaware. However,chronic effects can follow on a massiveexposure or poisoning, in the weeks, monthsor years that follow.There are some effects caused by pesticideswhich are intermediate between acute andchronic effects. These effects may take daysor weeks to develop after exposure to the pesticide.Some effects of pesticides also occur onlywith repeated exposures. Sometimes, a person's body can become adjusted to the presence of a pesticide, and they do notexperience symptoms, even though the pesticide is affecting their body. This is calledtolerance. The problem with tolerance is thatthe person is more sensitive to any newexposures, and a small further exposure maytip them into immediate and severe illness.This often happens with a group of pesticidescalled Organophosphates.
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2.1 Examples of Acute Effects of Pesticides
 Damage to nerves.
Many pesticides act on insects by damagingthe nervous system of the insect. In the sameway, these pesticides may be harmful tohuman nerves. The Organophosphate pesticides are the most important group. Theywill cause a person to have the followingsymptoms:
Headache, dizziness and weakness.
Tremor.
Excessive salivation, sweating, tearing of the eyes, watering of the mouth.
Disturbance of vision.
 Nausea and vomiting.Pesticides that act on the nerves can alsoaffect the nervous tissue in the brain, causinga person to become confused anddisorientated, and sometimes present as if they have a psychiatric disorder. More severeeffects can cause fits or collapse, and mayaffect the nerves controlling breathing,causing the person to stop breathing. Mostcases of fatal poisonings are caused by theseorganophosphate pesticides. Examples of these pesticides (names) are Dursban,Gusathion, Azodrin, Lebaycid, and Rogor.Many other pesticides can also cause nervoussystem damage. These include theOrganochlorine pesticides (such as DDT,dieldrin, etc).
Metabolic Poisoning.
Pentachlorophenol is a herbicide and wood preservative. It is used in agriculture but alsosold for domestic use. (You can buy it at ahardware store). If a person is heavilyexposed, it leads to poisoning of the cells of the body causing the body to burn up itssupply of carbohydrate. A person poisoned bythis chemical will start to sweat a great deal,the body temperature will rise and the personcan become seriously ill and die.
 Damage to the lungs.
Different pesticides can cause damage to thelungs. Methyl Bromide is a fumigant gas thatwill cause immediate damage to the lining of the lungs, causing the lungs to fill up withfluid and the person will collapse withrespiratory failure. Paraquat causes anirreversible thickening of the lungs, makingthe lungs stiff and unable to absorb oxygenfor the body's needs. Many cases of paraquat poisoning are fatal.
2.2 Examples of Chronic Effects oPesticides
Cancer.
There are some pesticides which are wellrecognised as causing cancer. For example,early pesticides containing arsenic are knownto cause cancer but most of these are nolonger in widespread use. However, there aresome pesticides currently in use for whichthere is evidence suggesting that exposure isassociated with a small increase in the risk of cancer. These include pentachlorophenol,amitrole, and dioxin (a contaminant of someherbicides).Then there is a lot of epidemiologicalevidence (research from studies of large
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