Why toxic pest control is more harmful than you think...

Like a lot of people out there, you might think that pesticides aren’t a problem. You might think, “I eat organic food and I don’t live on a farm. Surely pesticides are only a concern in rural areas?”

Well, you’re partly right. The majority of our exposure to pesticides comes from living in close proximity to farms and pesticide residues in our food supply. However, pesticides are also readily found in the city and the suburbs.

Did you know that most local councils regularly spray herbicides such as glyphosate (commonly found in Roundup Bioactive), which has been declared by International Agency for Research on Cancer as ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’, on verges, bushland parks and reserves, sporting grounds, golf courses, and even on school grounds? If you live near a reserve or a park, or your home is located near a school or a sports ground, then you and your family may be exposed to higher levels of pesticides on a regular basis.

These pesticides get washed into stormwater drains and into local waterways, finding their way into our water supply. Pesticide particles also become airborne and enter our homes through air movement, or on the soles of our shoes, or even on paws of our furry little friends.

While some councils provide notification to their residents on the upcoming use of pesticides, others won’t, and you’ll need to call them to find out about any Pesticide Application Plans in your local area.

So, pesticides might not be as far removed from your life as you might think.

But what’s the problem with pesticides?

Pesticides and insecticides contain potent neurotoxic chemicals that are used to attack the nervous system of insects and cause them to die—and studies suggest that this isn’t true just for pests, but for humans, too (Kim et al 2017).

In fact long-term, low-level exposure to pesticides has been linked to a variety of chronic diseases, ranging from asthma (Hernandez, Parron & Alarcon 2011) and diabetes (Evangelou et al 2016) to cancer of the bladder, breast, and brain Kim et al 2017; Koutros et al 2016; Merhi et al 2007) as well as neurodegenerative and autoimmune diseases such as Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, and Lou Gehrig’s Syndrome (Genuis & Kelln 2015; Freire & Koofman 2012).

And it’s not just internally where pesticides pose a threat, either. They can be strong skin irritants: my nephew often gets an all-over-the-body itch after playing at his nearest park, which only calms down after having a shower and putting aloe vera on his skin.

Children are particularly vulnerable to pesticides because they’re still growing, so their nervous systems and brains are more susceptible to toxins in the environment. This is especially important during the first trimester of pregnancy, as your baby’s nervous system is rapidly developing and nasty chemicals can pass right through the placenta to the developing foetus (The Endocrine Disruption Exchange n.d).

In fact, prenatal and early life exposure to pesticides has been associated with learning and neuro-behavioural disorders in children (Grandjean & Landrigan 2014; Bouchard et al 2011). The safest rule of thumb is that pregnant women and children should avoid pesticides wherever possible.

But it’s not always that easy.

Pesticides around the home

If you live in a rental home there’s a high likelihood that it was (or still is) treated for insects and termites, often with conventional pesticides such as Roundup. This pesticide residue settles on surfaces and carpet fibers inside your home and remains in the soil around your house for years, so it’s important to regularly test your soil, especially if you’re thinking about a veggie patch.

You might already be using gardening pesticides (like weed killers), and household pesticides like insect repellents, mothballs, and rodent and cockroach baits. Most of these products contain potent toxic ingredients that once released into the air settle on surfaces or remain airborne, where they can be breathed in, remaining for days or months in your household dust.

Most of these are potent respiratory and eye irritants too, and can cause itchiness, burning, or numbness of the skin as well as seizures (in children) and comas (Roy, Goswami & Pal 2017) One peer-reviewed study found that children exposed to indoor insecticides have a higher risk of childhood cancers such as leukaemia (Chen et al 2015), so it goes without saying that they should be avoided altogether.

Implementing good housekeeping practices (see Tips for Improving Indoor Air Quality Inside Your Home blog) can significantly minimise your family’s exposure to these pesticides, and choosing natural, safer pest options (see Keeping your Home Pest-Free Naturally) can reduce your exposure even further.

Cleaning, personal care products, and flea treatments

Besides weed killers and insect sprays, pesticides are often used as preservatives in many household products, thanks to their effectiveness at killing bacteria.

Products like kitchen disinfectants and sanitisers, bleach, mould and toilet cleaners, antibacterial creams, pet flea products, and lice shampoos that contain lindaine or permethrin, can all contain some form of pesticide.

Emerging evidence suggests that applying products containing pesticides on your skin (such as antibacterial creams and wipes), eating conventional produce, and drinking unfiltered water can significantly contribute to reduced diversity and function of gut microbiome, especially in infants, which in turn has been associated with increased incidences of allergies and asthma (Bisgaard et al 2011; Kang, Cai & Zhang 2016; Kim et al 2014).

Pesticides in food and water

While exposure to pesticides in food and water isn’t addressed in this blog, there’s a growing body of evidence to suggest that glyphosate in food is contributing to an autism epidemic, mental illness (depression, schizophrenia), and a rise in gluten intolerance and celiac-like symptoms (Samsel & Seneff 2015; Shaw 2017).

Pesticides are everywhere

So as you can see, you were partly right. Pesticides are more of a problem than most people think.

But when armed with the right information, we can all do our bit to protect ourselves and our family against these harmful pesticides, and see our way to becoming toxin-free.

In my next blog I’ll tell you some safe, natural alternatives for pest control, that you can start doing right away.

Healthier Home one step at a time!


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