analytics tool


Pesticides are chemicals used to kill or limit the growth of numerous types of pests. Included in this grouping are herbicides (kill plants), fungicides (kill fungi), insecticides (kill insects) and numerous other classes. They are designed to disrupt biological systems. 

Pesticides are used extensively in farming and are also used in homes, schools and businesses. Ten of the twelve most dangerous organic chemicals are pesticides.

Pesticides have been used to control mosquitoes to reduce the spread of diseases such as malaria and yellow fever. However, approaches to the treatment of mosquitoes and other health threats often have included excessive and injudicious use of pesticides rather than appropriate vector control.

There are more than 17,000 pesticide products on the market. Many of those are approved through “conditional registration”—a regulatory loophole that allows products on the market quickly without thorough review.

Sources of Pesticide Exposure

In addition to the widespread use of pesticides on agricultural lands, parks, schools and commercial and residential properties, pesticides are also found in household cleaners, hand soaps and swimming pools.

Individuals may be exposed to pesticides through both direct and indirect routes. Direct exposure occurs to individuals who personally apply pesticides in agricultural, occupational, or residential settings and is likely to result in the highest levels of exposure, whereas indirect exposures occur through drinking water, air, dust, and food and represent routes of long-term, generally low-level exposures. Indirect exposures may occur more frequently than direct pesticide application.

Health Effects

Pesticide exposure has been linked to numerous health effects including non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Parkinson’s disease, autism, leukemia, fetal death, birth defects, neurodevelopmental disorders and cancer.

Pesticide poisoning is another significant health issue caused by exposure to pesticides. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, headaches, rashes, eye irritation, fatigue, weakness, cramps, tremors, seizures and death. As stated by the World Health Organization:

Cases of acute pesticide poisoning (APP) account for significant morbidity and mortality worldwide. Developing countries are particularly susceptible due to poorer regulation, lack of surveillance systems, less enforcement, lack of training and inadequate access to information systems.

Many individuals and workers who experience health effects from APP may never present to a health-care provider due to distance from a medical facility, lack of resources, economic factors, fear of job loss or other reasons. Some health-care providers may be unaware of the relationship between pesticide and illnesses and fail to diagnose or report the incident properly. Additionally, some pesticides may not be properly mixed, prepared, applied, labelled or registered, making the determination of the agent of exposure difficult.

It is important to note that although some pesticides have been banned or restricted, they are still being used---either illegally or through the “Critical Use Exemption.” For example, the U.S. EPA offers a Critical Use Exemption for methyl bromide (another type of pesticide) when users have no technically and economically feasible alternatives and where the lack of methyl bromide will result in a significant market disruption.

Other countries have banned or restricted many types of pesticides. However, the United States still allows the use of these five---neonicotinoids, paraquat, 1,3-Dichloropropene, glyphosate and atrazine.

The following information provides a brief discussion of only three common pesticides. There is a vast amount of information available from other sources on the 17,000 pesticides currently in use.

Chlorpyrifos (Organophosphates)

This chemical is found in Dow Chemical’s pesticide named Dursban and is one example of a pesticide known as organophosphates. 

Chlorpyrifos can affect the development of the cortex which helps govern intelligence, personality, muscle movement and other brain functions.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned chlorpyrifos for resident use in 2011, but it still allows farmers and golf course owners to use it so workers and customers are still being exposed. However, the EPA says they are supposed to use personal protective equipment when applying it and restrict entry into the treated areas for 1-5 days. 

So, is it safe to re-enter the treated area after 1 day, or do you need to wait 5 days?

The EPA recently tried to completely ban chlorpyrifos, but the new EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, denied the ban on March 29, 2017.

Research has shown that household use of organophosphates is associated with an increased risk of Parkinson’s disease (PD). The researchers found:
  • frequent use of household pesticides increased the odds of developing PD by 47%
  • frequent use of products containing organophosphates increased the odds of PD by 71%
  • frequent use of organothiophosphate use almost doubled the odds of PD
Pesticide Use in Airplanes

Another type of “indoor environment” affected by organophosphates is the cabins inside airplanes. Organophosphates are added as a lubricant in aircraft engine oil and are included in the “bleed air” that is mixed inside the aircraft with recirculated cabin air. This creates a condition known as aerotoxic syndrome.

Although the air from the turbine engines of commercial jet aircraft is used chiefly for propulsion some is also used to refresh and replenish air in the cabin. As a result of oil-seal leakage, pyrolysed engine oil or lubricating oil can contaminate cabin air via the aircraft's ventilation system, and flight crew and passengers can then inhale the combusted fumes. Exposure to emissions from cabin air, whether polluted or not, is associated with certain health risks. This phenomenon is known as the aerotoxic syndrome or 'cabin contamination'.

On some occasions, aircrew and pilots have felt so overwhelmed/incapacitated by fumes they have had to make an emergency landing.

Of note, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner is the only aircraft that does not circulate bleed air in the cabin. Instead, they use electrically-driven compressors taking air directly from the atmosphere.

Due to limited data, underreporting by airlines and employees, and the airline industry’s refusal to acknowledge the problem despite numerous scientific studies and victim reports, there is still some debate about the exact cause of aerotoxic syndrome. However, it is important to note that causation has been proven in numerous lawsuits brought by airline employees. In addition, the airline industry has quietly “admitted” the problem by introducing the new Boeing 787 that does not use bleed air inside the cabin.

As stated in a 2016 research paper, “it is imperative that we get a definitive answer to the question of whether exposure to engine oil fumes on board commercial aircraft causes ill health.”

It is surprising that, to date, no substantial efforts have been made by government or industry to establish the levels of chemical contaminants which enter the aircraft during a fume event or to establish the impact of cumulative, low level exposure over time. Injury might be preventable if contamination detection and bleed air filtration systems were installed in all commercial aircraft. While the existence of a relationship between contaminated cabin air and ill-health may be a potentially expensive and inconvenient truth; the costs of ignoring the possibility of such a relationship are too high to ignore.

This discussion highlights the importance of being aware that in addition to the viruses, bacteria, fragrances, formaldehyde, carbon dioxide and other contaminants present inside airplanes, the use of chemicals/pesticides in the fuel is also a concern.
Pesticide spraying

Pesticides are chemicals used to kill or limit the growth of numerous types of pests. Pesticides are used extensively in farming and are also used in homes, schools and businesses. Ten of the twelve most dangerous organic chemicals are pesticides.

Glyphosate (Monsanto’s Roundup)

Another pesticide that is often cited in the headlines is Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer. The main ingredient in Roundup is glyphosate which has been restricted or banned in many countries (including Europe, Canada, Brazil, Sri Lanka, Bermuda, Sweden, France and the Netherlands). However, it is still being used in the United States. In fact, glyphosate has the highest global production volume of all herbicides.

In 1985, the U.S. EPA originally classified glyphosate as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” However, in 1991, the EPA changed the classification to “evidence of non-carcinogenicity in humans.”80
A 2013 research paper links glyphosate to the increase in celiac disease and gluten intolerance.

Celiac disease, and, more generally, gluten intolerance, is a growing problem worldwide, but especially in North America and Europe, where an estimated 5% of the population now suffers from it. Symptoms include nausea, diarrhea, skin rashes, macrocytic anemia and depression. It is a multifactorial disease associated with numerous nutritional deficiencies as well as reproductive issues and increased risk to thyroid disease, kidney failure and cancer. Celiac disease is associated with imbalances in gut bacteria that can be fully explained by the known effects of glyphosate on gut bacteria.

In 2015, the World Health Organization concluded that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans.” Tests show that glyphosate also causes DNA and chromosomal damage in human cells.

As noted above, glyphosate has been restricted or banned in several countries. However, there has been no change in U.S. government policy. Glyphosate is still being sold and used in the United States.

Methyl Bromide

This pesticide is used to control pests, insects, weeds and fungi. It is also used to treat imported goods such as grapes, asparagus and logs. Methyl bromide is toxic and damages the ozone layer. It can cause central nervous system and respiratory system failures and can harm the lungs, eyes and skin.

Methyl bromide was the cause of pesticide poisoning in a story involving a Delaware family that was on vacation in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The parents became ill, and the teenage sons went into comas after being exposed to methyl bromide at a vacation resort.82 The father is still paralyzed and unable to speak and has tremors. The wife suffered seizures.

The U.S. EPA and the U.S. Justice Department investigated the case. In March 2016, the EPA reached a plea deal agreement with Terminix resulting in a $10 million fine for illegally using this chemical.83

In February 2017, the U.S. Justice Department filed a lawsuit against Terminix for the incident in the Virgin Islands and at least 70 other instances of illegal fumigation. 

Terminix also agreed to pay $87 million to the Delaware family. The $87 million includes $10 million of criminal fines.

United Nations Special Report on Pesticides (2017)

On January 24, 2017, the United Nations issued a special report on pesticides. They make it clear that pesticides are inflicting damage on human health and ecosystems around the world.

The assertion promoted by the agrochemical industry that pesticides are necessary to achieve food security is not only inaccurate, but dangerously misleading.

The report discusses the catastrophic effects of pesticides on human health and our environment, as follows:

Hazardous pesticides impose substantial costs on Governments and have catastrophic impacts on the environment, human health and society as a whole, implicating a number of human rights and putting certain groups at elevated risk of rights abuses.

The United Nations recommends safer options for pest control such as agroecology which is mentioned in this next section.

Safer Options for Pest Control

There are safer options such as organic or natural products (not made from chemicals). This approach is often referred to as Agroecology or Integrated Pest Management (IPM).


Agroecology is the science behind sustainable farming. It combines scientific inquiry with place-based knowledge and experimentation which emphasizes knowledge-intensive, low cost, ecologically sound and practical approaches.

A rise in organic agricultural practices in many places illustrates that farming with less or without any pesticides is feasible. Studies have indicated that agroecology is capable of delivering sufficient yields to feed the entire world population and ensure that they are adequately nourished.

Integrated Pest Management (IPM)

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is an ecological approach using multiple strategies of pest control while minimizing the use of potentially toxic pesticides.

Many organizations, schools and government agencies have adopted the principles of Integrated Pest Management.

The U.S. federal government has mandated IPM on all federal properties since 1996 by Section 136r-1 of Title 7, United States Code, cited in Title 41 of the Code of Federal Regulations (102-74.35).

In connection with that mandate, the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) has distributed IPM guidance to more than 70 federal agencies, 2 foreign governments and about 50 public agencies in 17 states.

Another example of widespread use of IPM is the statewide program that has been implemented in California.

The University of California Statewide IPM Program (UC IPM) helps residents, growers, land managers, community leaders, and other professional pest managers prevent and solve pest problems with the least unintended impacts on people and their surroundings.

Another example is the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC’s Indoor Environmental Quality Policy limits or prohibits several types of indoor air contaminants including pesticides. Here is the section of their policy relating to pesticides:

Pest management, for both buildings and lawn care, will emphasize non-chemical management strategies whenever practical, and the least-toxic chemical controls when pesticides are needed. Integrated Pest Management practices must be utilized.

To read the CDC’s Indoor Environmental Quality Policy, click here.
Share by: