Pesticides are safe when used appropriately

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  Published at 11:03 pm, June 16, 2024 Gardening with pesticides | Envato stock imageA woman sprays her tomato plants with pesticides. | Envato stock image

I often hear comments expressing a hesitancy to use commercial pesticides. While there is nothing wrong with this viewpoint, it is often founded on bad information. There is much negative publicity, driven mostly by emotion rather than scientific evidence, regarding the danger of pesticide use.

Pesticides are not inherently dangerous. Using them incorrectly can be. That isn’t to say pesticide compounds are never hazardous. Their risk is tied to amount and susceptibility. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires 120 different types of tests to be run before approving a pesticide. Other federal and state agencies also regulate pesticide registration and use. The pesticides available have withstood rigorous scrutiny at many levels and have directions on the bottle for how to use them safely.

We don’t want pesticides in our food just as it would be better not to have preservatives, artificial colors, added sweeteners, as well as other substances that get added to our food for various reasons. It is helpful however to understand just how little pesticide residue is actually involved. In the various tests conducted before a pesticide is released for use, a maximum daily intake level for a human is determined where no adverse effects are observed. Then, the acceptable daily intake is set 100 to 1000 times below where any adverse effect is observed. In other words, a safety buffer is included many times below concentrations known to have any negative effect.

Also, improved detection methods can be misleading. Our ability to detect pesticides at very low concentrations has increased drastically. In 1950 we could only detect a compound down to 1 part per million (ppm). This is equivalent to one minute in two years. In 1965 we could detect at .001 ppm, equating to one second in 32 years. By 2005 we could detect 0.000000001 ppm. If my math is right that is about 1/3 of a second in one million years. This increased ability to detect substances in very, very small amounts doesn’t mean there is increased danger.

I believe prudent pesticide use is safe and effective. There are some weeds that can be controlled without chemicals, but some weeds simply need an herbicide for effective management. There are many insect issues that don’t need insecticide application. In fact, overuse and misuse of insecticides is a common societal malady. However, properly timed and applied insecticides can greatly improve the quality of many food products.

Pesticide use all comes down to following the label. That little booklet taped to the side of pesticide bottles includes instructions for safely using that product. Nearly all questions relating to that product are answered in that document. Fortunately, and unfortunately, it also serves as a legal document. So, the answers are written in legal jargon that can be hard to understand. The tiny font doesn’t help either.


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