Updated: May 24
Learning more about synthetic pesticide exposure can be an overwhelming pill to swallow.
But treating it as an opportunity to take better control of your and your family's health is a HUGE step in reducing exposure to some of the many toxins we're exposed to on the daily.
Doing what we can to take even the smallest of baby steps in the right direction is one of the simplest and easiest ways to help us get there!
What are Pesticides?
Pesticides are chemical compounds used to deter and kill "pests" such as insects, rodents, weeds, fungi and molds.
Most widely, synthetic pesticides are used in conventional agricultural practices in order to kill pests which may otherwise damage crops. However, pesticides are also commonly used in many industrial and household products such as the following.
Common Types of Pesticides
Herbicides: used to kill the spread of weeds in conventional agricultural practices, residential lawns, gardens, etc.
Disinfectants (anti-microbials): commonly used in hospital, school and household cleaners.
Fumigants: gas/vapor released into air or injected into soil for pest control.
Fungicides: used on plants or surfaces to kill or slow the growth of fungi or mold.
Insecticides: chemicals designed to kill insects used in conventional agricultural practices, businesses, households, etc.
Repellents/Rodenticides: chemicals designed to repel pest and kill rodents.
Pesticides in the Environment
The overuse of pesticides in the United States is contributing greatly to the chemical load of the environment (and human body). In fact, it's estimated only 5% of the synthetic pesticides used actually affect the targeted pests, while the remainder of these chemicals end up on plants, neighboring fields, in soil, and in our air and water.
Additionally, due to the widespread overuse of synthetic pesticides, these toxins are bioaccumulating in our environment and creating widespread contamination to other farms, forests, habitats, rivers, ponds, lakes, and seas.
Did you know over 90% of the wells sampled in a U.S. Geological Survey were polluted with pesticides?
Pesticides in the Human Body
Pesticides are generally used to help protect food supply, however, there's increasing concern regarding toxin accumulation in the body correlated with overuse and frequent exposure to synthetic pesticides.
These chemicals enter the body through contaminated produce, grains, meat, egg, and dairy products, as well as through water, air and contact with the skin.
Because pesticides accumulate in the fatty tissues of our body, it can make it increasingly difficult for the body to eliminate them as we age or store increased amounts of fatty tissue.
A build-up of pesticides in the body is shown to directly cause health issues such as a higher risk of disease, lowered immune health, increased oxidative damage, allergies and more.
In fact, there's a significant amount of evidence relating pesticide exposure to increased rates of chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, ALS, cardiovascular disease, COPD, asthma, as well as birth defects, reproductive disorders, and autoimmune diseases such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and chronic fatigue syndrome.
Are Pesticides Used in Organic Agriculture?
While it may come as a surprise, organic agricultural practices actually do incorporate the use of pesticides to prevent crop loss. HOWEVER — synthetic pesticides (and fertilizers) used in conventional agriculture practices are not allowed.
Instead, organic agriculture uses naturally derived products called biopesticides which are comprised of animal, plant, mineral and beneficial bacterial products.
Synthetic Pesticides VS Organic Pesticides
The biggest difference between synthetic (conventional) and organic pesticides is that conventional agriculture uses “broad-spectrum products” which are known to be toxic
to not only the targeted pests, but also other species — including HUMANS.
Organic biopesticides, on the other hand, are highly targeted to their specific pests, making them more environmentally friendly and less toxic to humans and other species.
Helpful Ways to Reduce Exposure to Pesticides
With all this said, you may be left thinking...
"SO, WHAT SHOULD I ACTUALLY DO ABOUT PESTICIDES?!"
The best thing we can do to minimize the risks associated with synthetic pesticide contamination is take action to reduce our exposure to them.
Here are 6 tips you can incorporate to help reduce your exposure to pesticides:
1. Choose organic food options when and if possible.
Choosing organic produce and other crops such as grains are a big help in reducing exposure to synthetic pesticide contamination. Additionally, because organically farmed animals are fed grains and grasses NOT grown using synthetic chemicals, choosing organic meats, dairy products and eggs also greatly helps reduce our exposure to synthetic pesticides.
2. Soak, wash and rise all produce before consuming.
Properly washing produce isn't only crucial in helping prevent the risk of contamination from harmful bacteria, but also for helping remove pesticide residues. In addition, removing the skins of conventionally grown produce can also help reduce the risk of synthetic pesticide contamination.
Using a naturally derived fruit and vegetable wash, or soaking produce in a vinegar dilute (3 parts water + 1 part vinegar) are great ways to effectively clean produce!
3. Buy produce options which are in season (local is a bonus!)
Buying produce which is in season is one of the simplest ways to minimize our exposure to pesticides in the foods we eat. Additionally, buying locally produced foods helps further reduce pesticide exposure while also supporting farmers close to home!
4. Utilize the EWG's "Dirty Dozen" and "Clean 15" shoppers guides.
Every year, the Environmental Working Group creates an updated "Dirty Dozen" & "Clean 15" shoppers guide which lists the produce exposed to the HIGHEST amounts of pesticide contamination, and those exposed to the LOWEST amounts of pesticide contamination.
You can use these guides to minimize pesticide exposure & save money by:
opting for organic foods when shopping produce from the “Dirty Dozen” list
opting for conventional foods when shopping produce from the “Clean 15” list
5. Use non-toxic pest & weed killers in your home and garden.
Switching from harmful weed killers such as Roundup (glyphosate) to non-toxic products can go a LONG way preventing toxic pesticide exposure at your home.
Instead of synthetic products, trying using alternatives such as diatomaceous earth for pest-control and a vinegar solute (1 gallon vinegar + 1 cup of seat + 1 oz of liquid soap) for weed control.
5. Always cook with and drink filtered water.
Due to the overuse of synthetic pesticides, "run off" from the fields and farms treated with these products bioaccumulate in water ways, regularly contaminating our wells and drinking water. Ensuring to always cook with and drink filtered water is one of the simplest ways to reduce exposure to pesticide contamination.
While we can’t directly control conventional agricultural practices, what we CAN do is be mindful of the foods we and our families regularly purchase and consume.
We can also...pay attention to what's happening in our food industry, question the current practices and policies in place, research the long-term effects of the processes used,
and collectively opt find and fight for healthier alternatives!