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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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1. INTRODUCTION The use of pesticide has increased rapidly over the past decades. Many people may be exposed to pesticides, including workers on farms and in factories as well as consumers and communities. There are many ways in which pesticides may threaten the health of humans and the safety and integrity of the environment. This section describes in some detail the health hazards of pesticides and the risks from different exposures. We examine different ways in which exposures can occur and also give some explanation about how to interpret data on pesticide risks. Lastly, we present a few examples of different alternatives to pesticides so that all stakeholders and interested people can participate in discussions around pesticide policy in an informed manner. 1.1 What are pesticides? Pests are flies, insects or moulds that destroy crops, plants and wood. Some pests are responsible for causing or spreading diseases in human (mosquitoes transmit malaria, snails carry bilharzia). Pesticides are the different types of chemicals used to kill these pests. We talk of fungicides as chemicals that destroy moulds and fungi, and insecticides as chemicals to destroy unwanted insects. Herbicides are pesticides used to kill weeds and grass so as to protect the crop. Pesticides are used in farming to promote crop production (get bigger yields). Farming today has become dependent on using

chemicals. This is because higher and higher yields are expected demanding the use of more vigorous pesticides. Some pests are also developing resistance to pesticides. Because the chemicals cannot control the pests anymore, more and newer pesticides are having to be used. Pesticides are also used in other settings. The Health Authorities may use pesticides to control pests that transmit disease. Household may be treated to get rid of household pests. Wooden poles and materials used for telephone lines and railway sleepers may be treated to preserve them for longer use. This means that pesticides are used in many different ways and people may have different chances and ways of being exposed to pesticides. 1.2 How are pesticides applied? Pesticides usually come in different forms such as powder, granules or concentrates that have to be mixed with water before being sprayed. Generally, there should be clear instructions 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 behind a tractor. Some farming activities require the pesticide spray to reach the tops of trees, so it releases a large cloud of fine mist (called a mist blower). However, if the tractor is spraying the pesticide downward from a fixed


boom at the back, there is less manual handling of the pesticide and less release of the spray into the air.

Effects that happen quickly (acutely), usually following exposure to a large (or unusually excessive) amount of the pesticide. These are called acute effects. An example of this is the poisoning of the liver, kidneys and lungs that follows when somebody swallows the concentrate of the herbicide paraquat. A person poisoned in this way will be very ill, requiring hospitalisation as their organs start to fail, often in an Intensive Care Unit. However, acute effects can also be less severe, and in some cases, can mimic the symptoms of a bad flu, making it difficult to diagnose the fact 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 longterm exposure at low doses, frequently in a way that a person is unaware. However, chronic effects can follow on a massive exposure or poisoning, in the weeks, months or years that follow. There are some effects caused by pesticides which are intermediate between acute and chronic effects. These effects may take days or weeks to develop after exposure to the pesticide. Some effects of pesticides also occur only with repeated exposures. Sometimes, a person's body can become adjusted to the presence of a pesticide, and they do not experience symptoms, even though the pesticide is affecting their body. This is called tolerance. The problem with tolerance is that the person is more sensitive to any new exposures, and a small further exposure may tip them into immediate and severe illness. This often happens with a group of pesticides called Organophosphates.

Manual methods (such as using a backpack or handspray) are used in domestic use, spraying to control malaria, or by small-scale farmers who cannot afford expensive spray equipment or whose farms are too small to warrant using a tractor. Sometimes, an aeroplane can be used to spray pesticides, particularly if there is a very large surface area to cover or the land is too wet for a tractor to drive in. This will release a fine spray at a height above the ground over the area treated. Certain pesticides come in the form of a gas and are released from capsules or canisters. The gas then spreads throughout the area and this is called fumigation. This method is used to apply a strong pesticide in a warehouse or to treat soil when re-planting. When soil is treated by fumigation, it is usually covered with a plastic sheet to prevent the gas from escaping. People who enter the fumigated area will breathe in the gas if they have no protection. Pesticides are sometimes also used to fumigate food products. Fumigation is used in grain mills and dried fruit factories and on some farms when the field or orchard is being replanted. 2. HEALTH EFFECTS OF PESTICIDES There are different types of effects caused by pesticides on human health. The two main types of effects are Acute Effects and Chronic Effects:

2.1 Examples of Acute Effects of Pesticides Damage to nerves. Many pesticides act on insects by damaging the nervous system of the insect. In the same way, these pesticides may be harmful to human nerves. The Organophosphate pesticides are the most important group. They will cause a person to have the following symptoms: • • • • • Headache, dizziness and weakness. Tremor. Excessive salivation, sweating, tearing of the eyes, watering of the mouth. Disturbance of vision. Nausea and vomiting. Pentachlorophenol is a herbicide and wood preservative. It is used in agriculture but also sold for domestic use. (You can buy it at a hardware store). If a person is heavily exposed, it leads to poisoning of the cells of the body causing the body to burn up its supply of carbohydrate. A person poisoned by this chemical will start to sweat a great deal, the body temperature will rise and the person can become seriously ill and die. Damage to the lungs. Different pesticides can cause damage to the lungs. Methyl Bromide is a fumigant gas that will cause immediate damage to the lining of the lungs, causing the lungs to fill up with fluid and the person will collapse with respiratory failure. Paraquat causes an irreversible thickening of the lungs, making the lungs stiff and unable to absorb oxygen for the body's needs. Many cases of paraquat poisoning are fatal. 2.2 Examples of Pesticides Cancer. Chronic Effects of

Pesticides that act on the nerves can also

affect the nervous tissue in the brain, causing a person to become confused and disorientated, and sometimes present as if they have a psychiatric disorder. More severe effects can cause fits or collapse, and may affect the nerves controlling breathing, causing the person to stop breathing. Most cases of fatal poisonings are caused by these organophosphate pesticides. Examples of these pesticides (names) are Dursban, Gusathion, Azodrin, Lebaycid, and Rogor. Many other pesticides can also cause nervous system damage. These include the Organochlorine pesticides (such as DDT, dieldrin, etc). Metabolic Poisoning.

There are some pesticides which are well recognised as causing cancer. For example, early pesticides containing arsenic are known to cause cancer but most of these are no longer in widespread use. However, there are some pesticides currently in use for which there is evidence suggesting that exposure is associated with a small increase in the risk of cancer. These include pentachlorophenol, amitrole, and dioxin (a contaminant of some herbicides). Then there is a lot of epidemiological evidence (research from studies of large

groups of exposed and unexposed workers, or from studies of cases who have cancer compared to controls without cancer) that suggest associations between cerain types of exposures (for example spraying certain herbicides, or use of organophosphates) with certain types of cancers (for example, blood cancers called lymphomas). This evidence is accumulating slowly and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) periodically publishes state-of-the-art assessments of the carcinogenicity of different chemicals, based on the weight of the evidence. Effects on the immune system. The body's system of defence (the immune system) against infections and cancer may also be affected by chemicals. It is only recently that attention has been focussed on this link. Some studies have shown that certain chemicals are capable of causing adverse effects on an organism's immune system. For example, dioxin is a potent immunotoxin for animal in laboratory studies and has been shown to cause changes in immune markers amongst workers exposed in massive accidental releases of dioxin. However, there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that new chemicals in the environment (xenobiotics) are causing shifts in the whole population's immune status. The scientific evidence to support this hypothesis is only accumulating gradually. Effects on the reproductive system. Certain pesticides are known to cause adverse effects on the reproductive system. For example, a fumigant called DBCP (Dibromochloropropane) has been shown to cause sterility amongst men, only partially

reversible after withdrawl from exposure. Some exposures to pesticides have been thought to cause specific birth defects but the evidence is not consistent. However, of greater concern, is the agrument that the xenobiotics in the environment mentioned above, are similar in action to hormones. These chemicals with hormonelike properties (called xeno-oestrogens or endocrine disruptors) are thought to have an effect not only on the immune system, but also on the reproductive system. This was published in a book recently (called "Our Stolen Future") which caused a great deal of controversy. It is thought to explain a trend found that shows that male sperm counts are gradually declining over time. Some of these xeno-oestrogens include pesticides such as DDT, atrazine, mancozeb, 2,4-D and others. Effects on the nervous system. Some of the effects on the nervous system may be chronic and last long after a person recovers from an acute poisoning. It also seems that some pesticides can cause damage to the nerves without an exposed person being aware of any poisoning. The symptoms of damage to the nerves affecting the hands and feet include numbness, tingling or burning sensations. Sometimes the muscles in the limbs grow weaker from the paralysis and the person will develop wasting and limb deformities. In some cases, the pesticide will affect the central nervous system, causing disorders of memory, cognition, thinking and personality change. Even though psychological effects are difficult to study, there is a lot of research going into investigating these effects of pesticides. 2.3 Examples of Other Effects of Pesticides

Many pesticides cause skin problems, either in the form of corrosive burns or through causing irritant or allergic reactions (called eczema). Dioxins cause a specific type of facial rash called chloracne. Some pesticides (Gamma BHC) can precipitate a type of metabolic disorder called porphyria, which has different features including skin problems. Some pesticides may cause an allergic reaction in the lungs leading to an asthmatic illness. Exposure to paraquat over a long period of time may also lead to a gradual stiffening of the lungs with loss of lung function. There are many other ways in which pesticides may have adverse effects on health (for example affecting one's liver, the kidneys, or one's mental state) but the research is still very sketchy. 2.4 Toxicity of Pesticides Pesticides are generally classified according to how toxic they are on the basis of tests done on laboratory animals (see the later section on the laws). Four categories of toxicity are identified, group I being most toxic and group IV being the least. This method of classification does not readily take into account the possible chronic effects of lower levels of exposure.

of the fat cells when the person is ill and breaks down fat cells. People can then suddenly get ill without knowing that the pesticide has caused the illness. Alternatively, the effect of the chemical may accumulate with tolerance and a small additional exposure may cause a person to become very ill very quickly. This is a big problem for workers handling Organophosphates (see above). 2.5 Things which make people more susceptible to pesticide-related disease Some pesticides may not be that toxic in their original state but become toxic (or more toxic) inside the body when converted to chemical products (metabolites). This conversion happens in a person’s liver. Other factors that affect the liver (such as alcohol or certain medications) can therefore change the person’s ability to metabolise the pesticide. This is why chronic undernutrition, alcoholism and liver disease make a person

more susceptible to pesticides. Another problem is that, when people are exposed to some pesticides over a long period of time, the chemicals may accumulate in the body. Certain pesticides (the organochlorines) are soluble in fat and are stored in the fat cells in the body. This makes them persist in the body and it can be difficult to clear these chemicals from the body. It is suspected that these chemicals can come out Young children are more vulnerable to the effects of pesticides. This is because they absorb a greater amount of pesticide compared to adults and are also biologically more susceptible to the adverse effects. Women may also carry increased risks because of their child-bearing role. Pesticide may damage the unborn foetus.


2.6 Identifying the Cause of a Disease associated with Pesticides - Understanding the Limitations of Research and Medical Knowledge Because of the long delay between the exposure and chronic effects of pesticides, it may be difficult to diagnose the condition and to realise that the pesticide may have been the cause. Some of the conditions are subtle and present with gradual onset and early symptoms (called sub-clinical) which makes them difficult to identify. It is also difficult to be certain that the pesticide is the cause because chronic conditions have many other causes. For example, some pesticides appear to increase the risk of lung and blood cancers, but we know that smoking and other chemicals such as benzene are strong causes of the same cancers. It then becomes difficult to reach a conclusion that the pesticide caused the cancer of a specific person. It also makes it difficult for researchers to investigate whether a pesticide causes a particular chronic disease because they have to take these factors (called confounding factors) into account. The long delay between the exposure and the effect also means that many people will be lost to follow up for the research. For this reason, the research findings about pesticides will always have limitations, and the state of knowledge of pesticides and their health hazards is gradually expanding as new methods are developed. Another important issue is that most scientific research is conducted within a particular framework. The scientist sets out to disprove the hypothesis that there is no effect from exposure to pesticides. If the study can disprove the hypothesis, the results can be interpreted to say that the pesticide has the effect of causing the outcome. However, if the study does not disprove the hypothesis, all the study shows is that there is no evidence that the pesticide has the effect investigated. The absence of evidence for an effect is NOT the same as evidence for NO effect, and

should be interpreted in that way. We will often find people misinterpreting research data to support arguments that certain pesticide are "safe." 2.7 Monitoring Exposed People to Prevent Disease The effect of pesticides is often unnoticed because it is similar to other conditions like the common cold or flu. Chronic effects are also gradual and can develop slowly over a long time without you being aware of it. Because of this, it is important to monitor people exposed to pesticides to be sure they have not been overexposed to a pesticide. This usually involves the measurement of the pesticide or a product produced from the pesticide in the body (called a metabolite). Usually one can measure these metabolites in the blood or in the urine. For certain pesticides (the organophosphates), one can also measure the effect the pesticide has on certain markers in the blood (cholinesterase enzymes). In this way, one can see if a person is being adversely affected before they have further exposure and become ill. It becomes possible to monitor a person and withdraw them from any exposure that may lead to illness. This is the basis for medical surveillance of exposed workers on farms and in factories. Not all pesticides can be measured by these markers. In that case, one has to rely on measuring the actual pesticide or its metabolites. This is usually more complex and costly, and requires special laboratories. 2.8 Routes and Types of Exposure to Pesticides There are many ways that one can be exposed to pesticides - in your work, in your home, in the food you eat or the water you drink. Pesticides can be absorbed into the body through the lungs (when you breathe them in) or through the skin or by swallowing pesticides (in food, water, unlabelled containers, or deliberate ingestion).

One can swallow a pesticide if it is present on the surface of a foodstuff. We call this a pesticide residue. Pesticides can also contaminate water supplies, particularly surface and ground water supplies near spraying activities. People who attempt suicide usually ingest large quantities of a pesticide. Sometimes, adults and children can drink a pesticide from an unlabelled container by accident. Many pesticides are very easily absorbed through the skin. This route for exposure is very important for farm workers, or for people who work with pesticides in the open air. If workers splash pesticide on their overalls or clothes, the pesticide can continue to be absorbed through the skin long after they have stopped working with the pesticide. Even for workers spraying pesticides, the danger of the spray is that it settles on their clothes and skin, and is absorbed through the skin. Pesticides that splash near the eyes can also be easily absorbed through the lining of the eyes (conjunctiva). Inhaling pesticides is more of a problem for people working with pesticides inside a closed room. For example, workers mixing the concentrates of pesticides are at risk of breathing in the pesticide fumes. The different groups who may therefore be exposed to pesticides include: 1. Workers of farms, factories and other setting handling pesticides. 2. Consumers: Pesticides may stick to the outside of fresh fruits and vegetables (residues) and be present in the diet. 3. Domestic users: Many people use pesticides at home for the control of household pests such as ants, cockroaches and flies. 4. Reuse of pesticide containers: People may also be exposed from the re-use of containers that were previously used for pesticides, especially if the containers are used for cooking, brewing or storing water. 5. Suicide: Pesticides are often used by people who want to kills themselves. This is particularly important in rural farming areas. If the pesticide store is not adequately controlled, people can get access to large quantities and concentrated forms of pesticides which are more likely to kill the person. 6. Childhood accidents: Young children may drink pesticides by accident, especially if it is stored in an unlabelled container. 3. PESTICIDES AND WORK Many workers are exposed to

pesticides in their work. This includes (see Table) farm workers, people who work in parks and forests, workers in factories, mills and pack stores and workers for commercial pest control companies (for example, Rentokil). There has been very little monitoring of workers’ exposures to pesticides or the effects of these exposures on their health. This is a major gap because it is difficult to plan preventive policies without this information. For example, we know that only about 20% of cases of pesticide poisoning seen at hospitals in the Western Cape are reported.

Workers who handle pesticides need to have proper training in how to protect themselves. New South African regulations (see later) have made it mandatory for all workers to be informed of the hazards of pesticides with which they work, as well as ways to prevent exposure. These regulations also make it compulsory to monitor workers medically to make sure their health is not affected by pesticides in both the short and long terms. Until a few years ago, there were no laws that covered the occupational health of workers using pesticides on farms.

The regulations also introduce the practice called “Risk Assessment” which has been used in many countries around the world. By Risk Assessment, the employer is obliged to investigate whether there are any exposures to hazardous chemicals at the workplace. If so, the employer is obliged then to monitor the environment and the workers’ health. The regulations set out details of how to do this. The most important exposure experienced by farm workers is usually contact with pesticides on the skin. Protective measures should be aimed at preventing all routes of exposure but particularly exposure via the skin. Broadly speaking, there are two groups of methods to prevent exposure (see Table). These include the use of protective clothing and equipment, such as masks, and ways to change the process (engineering controls) or

We know even less about the cases on farms of milder poisoning that do not get to the hospital. There is a major need to improve monitoring and surveillance of workers exposed to pesticides in South Africa.

the labour inputs to the process (administrative controls). The first group of methods tries to achieve health and safety by changing the worker to suit the workplace, while the second tries to adjust the workplace to make it safer for the worker. Wearing protective clothing is very important for preventing exposure but is difficult in hot conditions that are common in South Africa. In the heat, protective clothing becomes very uncomfortable. In fact, if workers sweat a lot, the moisture will absorb more pesticide and

may increase the amount of pesticide a worker absorbs through the skin.

It is also a problem if workers are not given training in how to use the protective clothing properly, or how to maintain the protective

equipment. Using a broken glove or a mask with an expired filter may be worse because it gives the worker a false sense of safety and they be more careless than if they had no protection. Other ways in which workers’ behaviour can lead to exposure should also be prevented. Eating or smoking in an area where pesticides have been sprayed or mixed can lead to workers swallowing residues of the pesticide. Taking home overalls that have been splashed with pesticides can expose family members at home. Many workers also take home pesticides to use for pests in their homes that may be far to strong for domestic use. Training is very important to prevent these routes of exposure. Many people disagree that protective clothing should be the main method to prevent workers’ exposure. They argue that this shifts the responsibility onto the individual worker. He or she can then be blamed for any problems caused by the pesticides if they do not use the clothing properly. Using methods that change the workplace to make it safer for workers is preferable. In fact, the current legislation in South Africa (the Hazardous

Chemical Substances Regulations) make it a legal requirement to use all other methods for preventing exposure before using protective clothing. This approach is called the Hierachy of Controls and is commonly applied in developed countries. Ways to make the spraying process safer include enclosing the spraying equipment (for example, putting a ventilated cabin on the tractor), designing spray equipment to cause less drift, etc (see Table). In other countries, there are many regulations aimed at protecting workers from exposure to pesticides which do not apply in South Africa. For example, fields that have been sprayed are posted to warn workers and the public to stay out of the area. The registration of the pesticide is based on information as to how long the field must be posted in this way. 4. PESTICIDES AND THE ENVIRONMENT Pesticides do not only affect the people who work with them. Pesticides can reach the environment in different ways. Spraying of pesticides in farming areas can lead to contamination of soil and ground water. This can change the fertility of land and cause water sources to become polluted. This form of environmental contamination is particularly important when pesticides are sprayed from an airplane because it is very difficult to control the amount of drift with aerial application of pesticides. However, less obvious forms of pesticide use can be very important in contaminating the


environment. Forestry activities and the use of herbicides for weed control can cause widespread pollution. For example, the land adjoining the Limpopo river was sprayed with a herbicide by the former South African army, causing long term damage to the river growth. It also harmed the crops on surrounding farms because farmers had to use the river water for irrigation. Once pesticides reach the environment, they will break down, a process called degradation. The products of breakdown are usually less toxic than the original pesticide, but sometimes the breakdown product may be more toxic, depending of the specific pesticide. The rate at which pesticides break down depend on a number of factors, including the type of pesticides, the soil types and climatic conditions. Some pesticides are very persistent and take a long time to break down. These include the organochlorines (such as DDT and dieldrin) whose long persistence makes them more effective pesticides. Because of their persistence, these chemicals tend to accumulate in foodstuffs. As the foods are consumed along the natural food chains, the chemicals become more concentrated. This is called bioaccumulation. There is some evidence that fish and beef in South Africa have started to accumulate high levels of these persistent chemicals, even though their use has long since ceased. This is because these chemicals continue to persist in the environment long after their use has stopped. Contamination of the environment with pesticides is an important threat to wildlife, particularly to fish

and birds. Pesticides can kill animals or cause indirect damage in the form of retarded growth, abnormal behaviour and impaired reproduction. Some species of animals are threatened with extinction because of hazardous chemicals in the food chain. For example, the blue crane is a national bird that is threatened with extinction by farmers’ use of pesticides as bait to poison predatory animals.

Insects that are not pests are also killed by pesticides. Many insects, such as bees, which are very sensitive to pesticides, are responsible for pollination in natural environments. The effect of pesticides on these “beneficial” insects will disrupt the natural ecosystems in many ways. It is important to monitor the presence of pesticides in the environment but little is done in South Africa. The laws allow for


regulations to make the chemical manufacturers report the amount and types of pesticides they produce to the Department of Agriculture but this has not been enforced since the mid 1970s. Also, water sources in South Africa are not routinely monitored for organic chemicals such as pesticides because it is very expensive. As a result, we know little about the extent of environmental contamination by pesticides. One study in Natal-Kwazulu found that DDT sprayed for malaria control in residents’ huts had accumulated in the breast milk of lactating mothers in the area. This study showed how the exposure in the environment can lead to humans being directly affected. If pesticides are used without caution, their effects may last for generations because of their impact on the environment. 5. PESTICIDES AND THE DOMESTIC ENVIRONMENT

The general public can be exposed to pesticides daily through a variety of means, such as: • Public spraying (e.g., road sides, office buildings, golf courses, schools, food stores, airplanes, railways, public parks and gardens). Homes (e.g., gardens in livings spaces, under floors, in ceilings, in wood preservatives, dipped/flea collared pets). Pesticide residues in food. Ground/surface water contamination. Malaria/queala/locust control programs. Pesticide drift from home and agricultural uses. Commercial lawn care services. Pesticide treated non-consumable products (e.g., cut flowers, timber, plants).

• • • • • • •

There are several hazards related to the home use of pesticides: • • Poisoning incidents from not using pesticides correctly, accidents, spillage, and not protecting oneself accurately. Incorrect storage of pesticides: Not storing them in a separate place giving rise to contamination of other things (e.g., dog food, clothes, water supplies). Putting pesticides in unmarked containers or losing labels. Children are particularly vulnerable to pesticide exposure. They crawl on the floors, ground, and lawn that may be sprayed with pesticides. They drop food on the floor and eat it. Children may also be more likely to drink something from an unmarked container. Pesticides are also used for committing suicide because they are easily accessible in the home, work and stores. This is particularly a problem in rural towns and on farms due to the easy access to pesticides.

Exposure to pesticides does not occur only in an occupational setting, but also in public places and the home. In order to reduce this exposure and possible pesticide poisoning, one must be aware of the many exposures that exist and take precautionary measures.

Some pesticide exposure prevention points to remember:


• •

Look for an alternative before using pesticides! Always apply chemicals as stated on the label. If there is no label, do not use it! Never store or put a pesticide in any container other than its original one. Do not bring pesticides home from work in unmarked containers!

• •

Take your drinking water to be tested. Ask neighbours to let you know when they are using chemicals and encourage the use of alternatives.

Alternatives exist to pesticides and should be used first! (See section 7 below). 6. PESTICIDES TO WATCH OUT FOR

• •

Store all pesticides away from anything else and make sure they are under lock and key. Do not throw empty pesticide containers in the bin or anywhere else. Phone your local health inspector for disposal advice as they are responsible for disposal of hazardous chemical substances under the Hazardous Chemical Substances Act. Do not use old or expired pesticides. They may have been banned or are ineffective. Where protective clothing when applying a chemical. Make sure others, children, and animals are not going to directly exposed to your pesticide use activity.

Many underdeveloped countries use dangerous pesticides that are banned in Western countries. The safety laws in Western countries are much stricter so pesticide manufacturers, which are large multinationals, export chemicals to countries where the laws are not so strict. The result is that the underdeveloped world uses only 20% of the world's pesticides, but suffers more than 75% of poisonings in the world. In South Africa, most of these banned

The public needs to be aware of all the possible places for chemical exposure and to ask questions: • Ask public places to post signs when spraying chemicals. For example, if a school has been fumigated, ask that they post signs when spraying. • Ask your local store if their fresh produce has been tested for pesticide residues.

chemicals are not registered for use. However, there are still some chemicals that are either banned or severely restricted that are still permitted for use in South Africa.

Ethylene Dibromide: This is banned in England and severely restricted in the US. It is used as a fumigant and applied as a gas. It has been restricted because of evidence that it can cause infertility and cancer. Lindane (Gamma-benzene hexachloride): About 20 different forms of this pesticide are registered in South Africa with the Department of Agriculture. Household treatment for woodborer often makes use of lindane. It is also used as a treatment for headlice and marketed as a shampoo. The evidence is that lindane can cause damage to the nervous system and cancer. It is an organochlorine pesticide and therefore persists in the environment for a long time. Chlordane: This is a very toxic pesticide used for controlling termites in buildings. It is banned in England and New Zealand. It is causes the same sort of illnesses as lindane. DDT: DDT is banned for use in agriculture. However, until recently, DDT was still being used in South Africa to control the mosquito that spreads malaria. It can cause long term damage to the nervous system, liver and skin, and is thought to cause cancer. DDT is very persistent in the environment. It can accumulate in the body for many years. At least 29 countries around the world have banned DDT.

South Africa, particularly on citrus farms. It was first developed during World War II as a nerve gas. Today, most cases of acute poisoning in the world are due to Parathion. Other dangerous pesticides used in South Africa are Aldicarb (Temik), Pentachlorophenol (PCP) and Paraquat, which is used as a weed-killer. Paraquat causes a fatal stiffening of the lungs if you swallow as little as a teaspoon of the concentrated mixture. It also may have gradual effects on your lung function if you work with it over a long period of time. Paraquat is very cheap and is very effective as a herbicide. That is why it is so commonly used. The police have used it to spray on illegal dagga fields in remote rural areas to destroy the plants. The chemical mentioned above are part of list called the "Dirty Dozen". This list has been drawn up by international environmentalist groups around the world who have launched a campaign to ban all chemicals they believe to be dangerous. The United Nations has developed a code of conduct for countries exporting pesticides to underdeveloped countries. This code gives the country receiving the pesticides more control over the pesticides it imports. South Africa has not signed the code, and until recently, was exporting dieldrin (One of the "Dirty Dozen" pesticides, banned in the USA) to Botswana. There is more detail on this in later sections. 7. ALTERNATIVES TO PESTICIDES The previous sections in this manual have outlined the various health and environmental problems related to pesticide use. In the discussion of preventing pesticide poisoning, exposure and contamination the emphasis is on ONLY USING PESTICIDES

Parathion: This is one of the more toxic organophosphate pesticides and is still used in

AS A LAST RESORT. This implies not only trying one alternative to pesticides, but several, before resorting to a pesticide. This section discusses some "alternatives" to pesticides. 7.1 Why considered? should alternatives be

several years. More and more consumers in the developed world are "demanding" organic products to avoid potential health effects from exposure to pesticide residues.

There are good reasons why we should consider alternatives to pesticides. These are to: • Protect humans from the health hazards associated with pesticide exposure (e.g., reproductive health). • Reduce costs (e.g., pesticide use, environmental clean up, workers compensation from pesticide injuries). • Protect the environment (i.e., soil, water, air) from contamination and destruction. • Protect animals from poisonings and hazards. • Protect natural predators. • Protect the destruction of natural pollinators (i.e., bees). • Prevent the development of pesticide resistance in species. • Reduce pesticide residues in food, water, and soil. Pests can be controlled without using pesticides and several methods of control exist. Research on pesticide alternatives is continually developing with research on areas such as, genetic engineering, transgenic plants, biological controls, and biopesticdes. 7.2 Alternative Pest Control Measures Some alternative pest control measures include: Organic Farming The philosophy behind organic farming is that crops are produced using absolutely no pesticides or related agricultural chemicals during any stage of pre-crop planting or plant growth. In many organic farming societies, the seeds and soil used have to be "pesticide free", that is unexposed to pesticides for

A recent development has been a consumer demand for cotton grown without pesticides. The belief is that since cotton farming requires a great deal of pesticide spraying, the cotton products are likely to contain pesticide residues that may be readily absorbed into the skin. Many farmers have argued that cotton cannot be grown without pesticides. However, consumer demand for pesticide free cotton has proved these farmers wrong and cotton is now being organically grown in Europe and America. Organic farming relies on the methods of control discussed below under Integrated Pest Management (IPM). However, the main difference between the two approaches is that organic farming does NOT USE PESTICIDES AT ALL; not even as a last resort! Community-Based Pest Management In developing countries, there are initiatives to control pests, such as tsetse flies and mosquitoes by organising affected communities in rural areas to co-ordinate control programs. In Kenya, the International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) has been instrumental in implementing such programs (Saini and Haskell 1993). For example, one project encouraged communities to maintain mosquito nets by dipping them regularly in a pyrethrum mixture. Another community

project in Kenya monitors and maintains tsetse traps by emptying traps of flies, repairing and making traps, and replenishing the bait odours with urine from livestock. Community participation in pest management strategies is effective with alternative technologies, safe, and economically viable.

People often think that crop yields will drop significantly if pesticides are not use, however this is not the case because not all pest damage results in economically significant losses in yields (Hansen 1988). That is, one can accept a certain amount of pest damage and still enjoy good crop yields. According to Pimentel (1993), there has been an increase in crop losses although pesticide use has increased because of : • • • • • Crops being more susceptible to pests (i.e., hybrid varieties). The destruction of natural enemies (i.e., things that destroy the pests). The increase in pest resistance to pesticides. Decrease in rotating crops (i.e., growing the same crops, in the same field year after year). The increase in planting only one crop (i.e., monoculture).

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) IPM is based on using different methods to control pests and only using pesticides as a last resort. IPM implies the use of the best mix of environmentally sound techniques in order to keep pests below the damaging point (i.e., threshold). The use of pesticides under IPM requires understanding the pest and which chemical to use, as well as when it is best to apply a chemical (e.g., when a pest is at a certain stage in its life cycle). Also, pesticide equipment should be set to release droplets at certain sizes depending on the type of chemical for efficiency. However, the main components of IPM are nonchemical approaches. Globally, commercial farmers who employ IPM methods have embraced this approach for its cost effectiveness, and for avoiding pest resistance and environmental problems.

Understanding where pests come from and why is a key first step! 7.3 Some of the approaches used in IPM: Biological Controls Biological control simply implies using living organisms or their products to control pests. This approach has successfully controlled pest plants (e.g., water hyacinth), pest insects (e.g., maize stem borer), and rats/mice/gerbils (by erecting perches in fields for predator birds). Biological control involves techniques such as: • • • • • Using natural predators (i.e., organisms that eat pests whole). Parasites (i.e., organisms that that eat pests from the inside). Microbials (i.e., microscopic organisms that make pests sick). Companion planting (i.e., where one plant protects another). Miochemicals (i.e., natural scents and tastes to repel, trap or confuse insects).


• •

Building barriers (e.g., nets and fences to keep out crop destroying birds and animals, mosquito nets). Using light, sound or heat to control the pest.

Resistant Varieties Cultural Controls These are farm management practices that prevent pests from developing into a problem. These practices include: • • • • • • • Rotating crops. Tilling the soil. Varying the planting time. Removing crop residues (destroy, use for compost or fodder). Pruning, thinning, and weeding. Composting plants. Hand-picking of pests. These are plants and animals that have a resistance to pests. This resistance is either put into plants by scientists (genetic engineering and transgenic plants) or these are plants used by farmers for years (traditional plants). Sanitation Controls These are clean up measures to remove and prevent breeding sites and food supplies for pests. In fact, for some pests, effective control cannot be maintained without good sanitation practices (e.g., removing food, garbage, and dirt to prevent cockroaches, ants, flies, and rats). Some sanitation practices are: • • • • Removing water, food, garbage and/or “shelters” for the pest. Preventing a pest from actually getting in to the place you want to keep them out of. Keeping planting sites clean. Remove plants that are sick/diseased so that cannot infect healthy plants.

Natural Control or BioPesticides “Natural” control methods means the use of plants, bacteria, crushed insects, etc. to make a substance to apply to the pest or to prevent the pest from attacking. The success of using natural controls was highlighted by the use of pyrethroids (from a flower). There has been such a market for pyrethroids that small-scale farmers in Kenya

Mechanical and Physical Controls These are methods that prevent the spread and reduce the infestation of pests (e.g., insects and rodents). These methods include: • Trapping.

grew the flowers for cash-cropping. Some examples of natural pesticides are: • • • • • • • • • Citronella oil as an insect repellent. Neem tree (seeds and/or leaves) controls 250 species of insects as well as having medicinal properties. Bicarbonate of soda spray as a fungicide. Bordeaux mixture for the control of cockroaches. Coriander as a companion plant because of its odour and attracts predators. Flour dusted onto vegetables that are attacked by caterpillars. Flour and water mixture is good spray for controlling aphids, red spider mite and whitefly. Milk and water solution for the control of fungal diseases. Tomato leaves as an insecticide.

For workers and people who have to handle pesticides, there are ways to prevent pesticide poisoning. FIRST, TRY TO USE AN ALTERNATIVE TO PESTICIDES. For example, if you are on a farm, try to make sure your farm understands IPM and can reduce usage of pesticides. If this is not possible, then you can WORK SAFELY WITH PESTICIDES (see the table above). • • • • • • Use a safer application method or substitute with a safer pesticide. Enclose the spraying. Make sure there is proper ventilation where you work. Keep away from any contact with mixing or spray unless absolutely necessary. Make sure the periods you work with pesticides are as short as possible and involve as few workers as possible. If you work with a pesticide: - Handle it carefully. Avoid spilling on your hands or clothes. - Never smoke or eat while using pesticides. - Never apply pesticides when there is wind blowing, because the pesticide will blow onto you. - After working with pesticides, wash your hands and whole body carefully. Management at workplaces are supposed to provide taps and showers to wash and a change of overalls. Store and dispose of pesticides safely: - All pesticides should be locked away in a store separate from food, tools and other equipment. - The store should be as far away from the any homes as possible and no children should be able to get into the store.

The list of natural pesticides is long and there are numerous methods. Many good books exist on explaining the methods in detail, as well as numerous societies on alternative pesticide methods. A key component in IPM is understanding the natural balance of the environment in which pests live. One needs to learn how to be a “caretaker” of the environment so that pests can also be controlled by their natural predators. This is done by understanding the environment in which pests live (i.e., the ecosystem) and by understanding pests habits and life-cycles. Alternative control methods for pests is not limited just to commercial farming. Pest control alternatives can be used for smallscale farming, home gardens, in the house, in buildings, food stores, and on the body - any where a pesticide would be used, an alternative can be used! Before using a pesticide one should always first look for an alternative. Pesticides are meant to “kill” and there is no such thing as a totally “safe” pesticide. 8. SUMMARY: PREVENTING PESTICIDE POISONING



Inside the store, there should be no leaking of the containers, and no pesticides in unlabelled containers. Empty pesticide containers must be destroyed. all empty pesticide containers should be punctured, flattened and buried or burned. If containers are not destroyed, they should be sent to a waste disposal service.

9. WHAT CAN YOU DO IF THERE IS AN ACCIDENT WITH A PESTICIDE? If you get pesticides on you by accident, this is what you must do: • • •

• -

Use protective clothing properly:

Take off the clothing that is contaminated with the pesticide. Wash off the pesticide with soap and water. If the pesticide has gone into your eyes, wash our your eye with a gentle stream of water for at least 15 minutes. If the pesticide has been swallowed, read the label to see what first aid you must give.

A person involved in an accident with pesticides must be taken to a doctor:
• • •

If the pesticide has splashed in the eyes. If the person has swallowed the pesticide. If the person has spilled a lot on their skin or clothes.


Make sure it is not broken or worn. Mend any tears. If protective clothing is used at the workplace, the management must supply new clothing. - Filters in masks must be changed regularly. - Masks and goggles must fit your face properly. - The most important part of the body to protect is usually the face, neck, arms and legs. This is where most absorption through the skin takes place.


10. STRATEGIES FOR HEALTH AND SAFETY WITH PESTICIDES Use alternatives to pesticides where possible: • Methods to control pests that do not depend on chemicals should be used more often. IPM will be safer for the health of workers and communities.

Health care: • People handling pesticides should have access to a health service that monitors them regularly to prevent them from becoming affected by the pesticides. An emergency service to treat all people poisoned by pesticides should also be provided at the workplace and in the community.

Avoiding exposure to pesticides: • If pesticides are going to be used, there are ways to use safer technologies (such as enclosing the spray or have better machines that use less pesticide) or choosing the safest pesticide.

Training: • All people working with pesticides should be trained to work safely with chemicals. This includes training on the safe mixing, spraying and storage of pesticides, signs of poisoning, first aid and disposal of containers. This training is especially important for women because of the risks to pregnancies. The laws and how to monitor workers for safety should also be part of training.

Labeling: • Every pesticide should be clearly labeled, including the name and instructions how to work safely with it. If there is no label, workers should have the right to refuse to work with it.

Storage: • Pesticides must be stored safely: They should be locked away, properly labeled in containers that do not leak. They must be kept away from food, feeds, fertilizer, family and family homes.

Washing: • Washing facilities and regular change of clothing must be available at the workplace, so that workers do not have to take overalls home.

Posting of fields: • Fields that have recently been sprayed, should have signs to keep people out (posting).

Work conditions: • Workers must change work area and type of work regularly. Never work with pesticides for more that 10 hours at a time. There must be regular breaks. Workers should never work alone with pesticides and should never spray pesticides into the wind.

Protective equipment: • A cap, overalls, long rubber gloves and gumboots must be provided for workers who handle pesticides. Equipment should be maintained in good condition, and overalls washed regularly.


REFERENCES: . PESTICIDES AND THE DOMESTIC ENVIRONMENT Beaumont, P. (1993) Pesticide, Policies and People - A Guide to the Issues. London: The Pesticides Trust. Reducing Your Risk - A Guide to Avoiding Hormone-Disrupting Chemicals. Canada: World Wide Fund for Nature. ALTERNATIVES TO PESTICIDES Benbrook, C.M. (1996) Pest Management at the Crossroads. New York: Consumers Union. Berger, A. (1994) Using Natural Pesticides: Current and Future Perspectives. Report 2. Sweden: Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. Hansen, M. (1988) Escape From the Pesticide Treadmill: Alternatives to Pesticides in Developing Countries. New York: Institute for Consumer Policy Research, Consumers Union. Pest Publications. (1987) Shepherds Purse Organic Pest Control Handbook. Tennessee: The Book Publishing Company. Pimentel, D. and J. Lehman (1993) The Pesticide Question Environment, Economics, and Ethics. New York: Chapman & Hall. Saini, R.K. and P.T. Haskell (1993) Community-Based and Environmentally Safe Pest Management. Kenya: ICIPE Science Press. Schoubroeck, van F., M. Herens, W. deLouw, J Louwen, and T. Overtoom (1990) Managing Pests and Pesticides in Small Scale Agriculture. The Netherlands: Centre for Development Work The Netherlands.


MAJOR POISON CENTRES IN SOUTH AFRICA These centres may be contacted or visited when you have questions about pesticide poisoning. Your doctor or nurse can get help from experts. Western Cape: • University of Cape Town: Medicines Information Centre, Department of Pharmacology. OBSERVATORY, 7925. Tel: (021) 448 3202; 406 6291; 406 6280. • University of Stellenbosch: Pharmacology and Toxicology Consultation Centre, Tygerberg Hospital Department of Pharmacology, Faculty of Medicine, P.O. Box 19063, TYGERBERG, 7505. Tel: (021) 938 6084; 938 6235 (office hours); (021) 9316129 (after hours- 24hrs) • Red Cross War Memorial Children's Hospital Poisons Information Service, Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, RONDEBOSCH, 7700. Tel: (021) 689 5227 Orange Free State: • Department of Pharmacology/ Poison Control and Medicine Information Centre, Faculty of Medicine University of the Orange Free State, P.O. Box 339, BLOEMFONTEIN, 9300. Tel: (051) 47 5353 (all hours) (051) 405 3067 (office hours); (051) 405 3911 (Universitas Hospital). Gauteng: • Johannesburg Hospital Poison Information Centre, PrivateBag X39, JOHANNESBURG,2000. Tel: (011) 642 2417; 488 3108. CROP PROTECTION AND ANIMAL HEALTH ASSOCIATION (AVCASA) Chemical companies who work with farmers on the safe use of pesticides. Mr. J. Kleynhans, Director, P.O. Box 1955, HALFWAY HOUSE, 1685. Tel.: (011) 8052000/70/79/85. Fax.: (011) 805-2222.

PROVINICAL DEPUTY DIRECTORS OF OCCUPATIONAL AND/OR ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH Western Cape: Mr S. Mbuli or Ms E. Taljaard, Private Bag X19, BELLVILLE 7535. Tel: 021-948 8573/4/5; Fax: 0219463525. North West Province:Mr T. Pule, Private Bag X828, PRETORIA, 0001, Tel: 012-312 0262. Northern Province: Mr Jimmy Ledwaba, Private Bag CX9302, Pietersburg, 0700, Tel: 0152-291 2010 Fax: 0152-291 3355. Mmpumalanga: Mr L Mdhluli (Acting Dep. Director), Private Bag X2068, Mmabatho, 8681. Tel: 013- 752 3107/8; Fax: 013- 752 6028. Gauteng: Mr Robbie Hamilton, Private Bag X085, Marshalltown, 2107. Tel: 011-355 3829; Fax: 011-838 3613. Free State: Mr Danny Hugo, P.O. Box 441, Bloemfontein, 9300, Tel: 051- 430 1418; Fax: 051-447 2715. Northern Cape: Mr Z Zincume, Private Bag X5049, Kimberley, 8300. Tel: 0531-1185; Fax: 0531-827168. Eastern Cape: Ms Isabel Nompuku, Private Bag X0038, Bisho. Tel: 0401-93754; Fax: 0401-951205. Kwazulu-Natal: The Director (no one appointed yet), Private Bag X9051, Pietermaritzburg, 3200. Tel: 0331-953 175; Fax: 0331- 953 175.


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