Pesticides are a part of our daily world, with fruits and vegetables sprayed to ensure they don’t get eaten by pests during shipping, agricultural crops sprayed in the field to increase yield, and spraying buildings to keep wild animals and pests away from our homes and offices.
While we might spray and forget, those chemicals build-up and have unintended, widespread effects on the environment.
In this HerbSpeak article, you will learn how pesticides affect the ecosystem at large, from the environment to wildlife, and even the human population.
With an estimated 5.6 billion pounds – roughly 2.5 million metric tonnes – of pesticides used globally, it is a wonder that we haven’t done more damage than we have to the environment.
Unfortunately, many of the effects have yet to be recognized as we either do not have the ability to measure the effects with our current resources, or it has not yet appeared, as some effects can take several years to show up in more obvious ways.
What Is Pesticide Pollution?
Pesticides are sprayed in agricultural crops and in commercial and residential homes to ward away unwanted or dangerous wildlife, insects, and microbes. While the greater public health is kept in mind in this frequent spraying, chronic use and misuse of pesticides has posed quite a problem to global environmental health. Pesticide pollution is considered a problem when those pesticides spread to areas outside of their previously intended use.
These poisons eventually meet natural resources such as groundwater or water reservoirs, food sources, and even spread in the air. Ultimately, it is responsible for killing a secondhand contact population and causing many severe issues in humans.
Unfortunately, with uncontrolled or loosely controlled use of pesticides worldwide, the effects of spraying several billion pounds of toxic chemicals have caused some serious shifts in the natural ecosystem, all without discussing the increasing resistance that many “pests” are displaying towards these pesticides anyway.
What Is Considered a Pesticide?
A pesticide is a chemical that is used to either kill or control a pest population. (1)
Within the United States, the EPA defines a pesticide as:
- Any substance or mixture of substances intended for preventing, destroying, repelling, or mitigating any pest.
- Any substance or mixture of substances intended for use as a plant regulator, defoliant, or desiccant.
- Any nitrogen stabilizer.
There are many types of pesticides that are commonly used, and each has different modes of action depending on their intended target.
One important thing to remember about pesticide use is that even though it is meant to only target, or “guaranteed to only kill” a certain pest, this does not mean that it will not harm an unintended population.
Humans are a great example of this, with several pesticides meant for insects and herbs causing – as more evidence is beginning to show – significant reproductive and mutagenic harm to the human body through low yet consistent exposure.
Consequences of Removing an Unintended Population
Pesticides have been known to cause harm to species other than their target. It happens all the time, even if we don’t pay much attention.
One well-known and direct example of this impact is with rodenticide. Many predatory birds, house cats, dogs, and other animals die every year from secondhand poisoning of rodenticide, which causes internal bleeding or thins the blood to the point that it cannot clot.
If you don’t believe that it is common, follow your local wildlife rehabilitation organizations and see how many cases appear over the year. Statewide organizations in smaller states often see four or five cases each year, not including those that they cannot take due to being at capacity, or those that pass away without ever being discovered.
This rodenticide is meant to kill off unwanted populations of mice, as they are seen as pests.
Unfortunately for the wildlife that depends on mice as a food source, this can be just as deadly.
This, unfortunately, means that while you might spray to keep your home pest-free, you are poisoning the food source which many animals depend on for food. Just because we lost line of sight doesn’t mean that pesticides aren’t working through the ecosystem around us.
These mice are ingested by predators. These predators are ingesting portions of the poison. The predator’s size and metabolism determine how much of their food they can eat before the rodenticide in their blood raises to a fatal level. Because the pesticide is meant to kill smaller animals with a small amount of contact, this does not take long.
Indirect Concerns of Pesticide Pollution
As visual-based creatures, we are most preoccupied with the immediate results that we can see. The real change that we can believe and see as the result of a certain action.
While we might be able to see the social media posts from local wildlife organizations as they attempt to save the lives of dozens of animals each year from accidental ingestion of these toxins, we cannot directly see the effect of pesticides on the whole ecosystem.
Each species in an ecosystem is a part of the whole. Remove one, and you will remove a large food source, pollinator, or otherwise supportive species of another species, taking two species out of the picture.
This continues as a chain-reaction until the effects are either diminished enough for a species to adapt, or it affects that species little enough for them to compensate elsewhere and the dominos stop falling.
Now, let’s take a step back for a moment: this is assuming an absolute decimation of an entire species due to pesticide use.
While entire species may not be eliminated in a local ecosystem from indirect contact with a pesticide, there will still be a portion of the population that is diminished, and this chain-reaction takes place, but on a much smaller scale.
Still, any ecosystem is a balancing act, and each change within it must be accommodated.
Pests are Necessary for Biodiversity and Ecological Stability
Let’s reframe how we think about pests.
It is essential if we are to shift our thinking to a more unified ecosystem, to begin looking at the jobs that each of these organisms have in an ecosystem. First, a series of clarifications, then we will dive in:
No, it doesn’t mean that we suddenly want “pests” inside our homes.
Yes, certain non-native pests can be harmful and can cause declines in native biodiversity.
Yes, pests may carry disease and can potentially cause harm or undesired effects.
Yes, despite short-term benefits, pesticides and agriculture are harmful as they cause an overall loss in wild bio- and genetic diversity, lowering the immune systems of plants, animals, and insects and modifying their natural food sources, land coverage, and shelter.
All of the following reframing does is allow us to re-evaluate our thoughts and opinions on what would normally call a pest, recognizing it for its value even in times where it is undesirable.
There are six main types of pesticides that we use in everyday agriculture and home living:
- Insecticide – targets insects.
- Rodenticide – targets rats and mice.
- Herbicide – targets plants.
- Bactericides – target bacteria.
- Fungicides – targets fungi.
- Larvicides – target larvae.
These pesticides target different things. Though they might seem relatively harmless to us, each one targets a living member of our ecosystem.
Insecticide, rodenticide, and larvicide each target a member of the Animalia kingdom – the biological kingdom of which we are a member of ourselves.
Insects help create nutrient-rich topsoil which they aerate; they pollinate plants efficiently, are a keystone food source for many birds, reptiles, and small mammals, and the population is self-controlling of itself if left alone long enough for the local populations to balance themselves out.
For example, spiders eat many unwanted pests, yet we rid our yards of spiders and then complain about the undesirable insects eating crops and invading homes.
Bactericides target members of the two prokaryotes kingdoms, which are separate, yet there is still evidence that bacteria are “living” much the same way that individual cells are living.
Bacteria function as a backbone to our natural ecosystem, providing soil nutrients through the decomposition of dead matter, the creation of important enzymes, and changing the chemical structure of certain products to make them more usable. Bacteria are even used in bioremediation to help clean out pollutants.
Herbicides target plants, members of the Plantae kingdom, of which plants have many stunning similarities to how our bodies function, including reaction to environmental stimulus and the ability to communicate with other parts of the plant through electrical signaling.
There is no doubt that without plants, our ecosystem would be nonfunctional. Through millions of years, plants have developed beneficial methods of cleaning the environment and making it suitable for many of our modern lifeforms.
They remove carbon dioxide from the air – the gas we exhale, burn, and create – and turn it into breathable oxygen. Plants also regulate natural sources of Co2 output, mediate weather patterns, and provide sustenance, shelter, and medicine.
Fungicides target fungi, members of the creatively named Fungi kingdom. There is evidence that members of this kingdom are more closely related to animals than they are to plants. These fruiting bodies are borne of underground mycelium networks that allow nutrient and chemical communication between plants and insects.
Fungi play a large role in the ecosystem as decomposers that help balance the scales between degradation and life, recycling old matter into new matter. There is even a fungus that has been discovered to eat small amounts of plastic, recycling it into valuable organic nutrients.
How Do Pesticides Spread?
Pesticides contain toxic chemicals, heavy metals, and many other ingredients which are harmful to the environment and organisms within it, either in their base state or in the levels present in the pesticide.
These pesticides are then applied to agricultural land and domestic gardens, where they are spread in several ways depending on their method of dispersal. There are several methods of spread that are well-known and documented:
- Soil Adsorption
Similar to how metal clings to a magnet, adsorption – not absorption – is the action responsible for chemicals from pesticides clinging to soil particles. Essentially, this is the process by which pesticides cling to soil particles more tightly than they might to plants or the air in other modes of transport. This is not always the desired result because adsorption can prevent the pesticides from working as intended.
Several factors play into how much or how little pesticides adsorb into the soil such as soil pH, the type of chemical used, and the strength or concentration of the solution.
Levels of soil moisture and soil type are the main two environmental factors that can affect adsorption; high soil moisture means that more water molecules are bound to soil particles, creating more “competition” for pesticides particles to attach themselves to the soil.
Soil type may also play a role, as rich organic soils and clay tend to adsorb pesticides easier than sandy, coarse soils. The finer and higher amount of carbon is stored in the soil tends to indicate a higher adsorption rate.
Pesticides that have been adsorbed into the soil won’t typically leach away from the site unless removed from the soil manually or through soil erosion which can occur naturally or through manufactured means. The long-term presence of adsorbed pesticides in the soil will cause degradation of the soil microbiome over time. While this will deplete the soil, it will reduce the risk of runoff.
- Soil Leaching
Soil leaching occurs when these chemicals move through the soil rather than over the surface or bind to soil particles. These eventually end up in groundwater reservoirs years later and are the slower, underground equivalent of direct runoff. Pesticides that last for a long time without degrading are more likely to begin leaching, whereas chemicals that degrade quickly are broken down before leaching begins.
How much and how often chemicals leach through the soil is often dependent on the makeup of the chemicals entering into the soil, as well as soil permeability, and the chemical’s water solubility.
The chemical makeup can change how quickly and how many particles bind to water molecules, as some are quicker to do so than others.
Soil permeability also plays a significant role in soil leaching as it changes how readily water and other chemicals move through the soil. Permeability is higher the more porous the soil is, so sandy and loamy soils are much more permeable than clay.
The more soluble the chemical is, the better chance it has at binding with water and moving away from the target area.
The surrounding environmental conditions such as temperature and humidity also play a significant role in how likely a pesticide is to leach through the soil. While the risk of pesticide leaching can be reduced by following all advisory warnings on the label where applicable, the risk cannot be completely mitigated.
Rather than the adsorption discussed earlier, this mode of movement is the uptake of the pesticide into plants and animals. This includes both the intended target as well as unintentional spread to other species.
- Crop Transfer
While many agricultural products are washed before consumption which degrades or removes most pesticides from the harvestable plant, this is not the case for many garden plants.
Pesticides that have been absorbed into plant material can be transferred to other areas through pruning and transfer of plant material, as well as transplanting, and mowing, and other activities.
- Vapor Drift
This is also commonly called volatilization or spray drift. This is when sprayed pesticides dissipate into the air and are carried along on the wind, which can cause the chemicals to spread over several miles of land area.
Highly volatile pesticides are considered some of the more difficult chemicals to control in a targeted area. This can cause unintended harm to surrounding wildlife and plants. These pesticides are often labeled in areas with a strong regulation presence, but some countries may not have strict labeling requirements.
Many environmental factors affect volatilization as well, such as temperature, humidity, and wind. High wind, low humidity, and high temperature all increase volatility of many pesticide chemicals as these are favorable conditions for the chemicals to break apart and drift in the air.
The type of soil pesticides are stored in can affect the rate of volatilization as well, as soils that present less of a risk of adsorption will not bind the chemicals as easily, causing it to be dissipated through other means such as this vapor drift.
- Water Runoff
Water runoff occurs when pesticides have not been adsorbed into the soil or absorbed by other organisms and are effectively sitting on top of the soil. These particles bind to water molecules when it rains or when irrigation water moves through.
The chemicals bind to the water molecules and move with them towards rainstorm streams, drains, and other water sources, often down a sloped surface towards the nearest natural water source like lakes, ponds, and rivers, where it is then dispersed into the larger pool of water.
Contamination of both natural or irrigated streams and soil eventually make their way to natural water sources where it can become harmful to living organisms in varying concentrations, degrading microbiomes within the water, harming aquatic life, and in stronger concentrations, damaging the surrounding local plant and animal wildlife that are connected to that water source.
Direct runoff will make its way into a water supply faster than that of soil leaching, but both are detrimental to the water supply’s surrounding ecosystem.
Do Pesticides Degrade?
Pesticides do degrade; like all minerals and chemicals, they do degrade naturally over time, and this degradation can be influenced by other factors as well. This breakdown process is beneficial when the intention is to remove the pesticide completely. Most often, when a pesticide is applied, however, steps are taken to reduce its ability to degrade quickly, encouraging its intended effects to take place.
The natural rate at which certain chemicals degrade depends on the individual chemical and the particles it is bound to. Many processes affect the rate that pesticides degrade, the most common being the following:
This type of degradation occurs when the chemicals are exposed to sunlight or other forms of light. While this won’t help pesticides that have leached or adsorbed into the soil, it can help degrade pesticides on the soil surface, in the air, and on top of plant foliage and animal fur.
Many pesticides, particularly insecticides, are susceptible to hydrolysis, which is the degradation of pesticides through warm (often alkaline) water. This process renders the pesticide chemicals inert or less harmful as it breaks down the individual compounds and can change the overall pH of the pesticide.
- Microbiological Degradation
This type of degradation occurs when fungi, bacteria, and other microorganisms present in the soil break down the chemicals, either as a byproduct of their natural function or as a food source. Soil conditions such as temperature, moisture, pH, aeration, and the amount of organic matter present can affect the rate at which these processes take place. Soil with a high amount of organic matter with adequate aeration, a balanced pH, and adequate temperature and moisture helps these microorganisms and fungi thrive.
Your content goes here. Edit or remove this text inline or in the module Content settings. You can also style every aspect of this content in the module Design settings and even apply custom CSS to this text in the module Advanced settings.
How Do Pesticides Affect the Environment?
Once a natural resource is contaminated with a pesticide, it can be considered hazardous to people, communities, and the environment.
While the average residential-strength pesticide isn’t enough to warrant a public health warning, there are marked effects on the human system that researchers are increasingly concerned about even from casual exposure.
In some countries, there are environmental regulations in place for pesticides that are particularly hazardous to humans; especially those that are used in large quantities for agricultural purposes. These large-scale pesticides are of more concern because humans are exposed to them at more frequent intervals, or at stronger strengths than in most residential applications.
These effects on human health are not limited to humans or the pests they are intended for but expand to the animals that feast on those pests and other species further up the food chain.
Effects on Plants
Pesticides can easily and adversely affect plant growth, even for beneficial species outside of the target area. Whether pesticides are sprayed directly on the surface of the plant, or allowed to absorb through the soil and roots, these chemicals can cause a significant amount of damage.
For many plants, pesticides can inhibit chlorophyll and protein content, suppressing its ability to photosynthesize – or by clogging the stomata – essentially starving or suffocating the plant. Oxidative stress is another problem caused by pesticide toxicity.
The result of this chemical overload is weak plants that are more susceptible to disease and harmful insects, reduced or lack of viable seed, and a reduction in overall plant quality and health.
Depending on the type of plant and the strength or type of chemical used, the half-life of these pesticides could range anywhere from a few hours to several years.
Effects on Humans
Pesticides have been known to have many acute and chronic health effects. (2) The severity of these effects may be reliant on the type of chemical used, the frequency and strength of exposure, and the health of the individual’s immune system. Effects of pesticide poisoning can also be compounded if multiple pesticides are used.
Certain environmental chemicals, including pesticides termed as endocrine disruptors, are known to elicit their adverse effects … it has been postulated that their long-term, low-dose exposure is increasingly linked to human health effects such as immune suppression, hormone disruption, diminished intelligence, reproductive abnormalities and cancer
In some countries, dozens of pesticides have been banned for their ability to effect human health and stay in the soil or water for long periods of time. While these regulations suppress the use, it does not eliminate its use globally as regulations are country specific.
Side effects of exposure can appear in the short-term or continue to cause chronic health problems years after frequent exposure.
Common side effects of pesticide exposure include nausea, stinging eyes, dizziness, diarrhea, and skin rashes.
More severe side effects can include birth defects, death, blindness. Pesticides are known to affect the nervous system, reproductive system, and endocrine system. Studies have also begun linking pesticide exposure to Alzheimer’s disease, ADHD, and several types of cancer.
Effects on Animals and Insects
The way pesticides affect animals is further in the spotlight than the effects on any other part of the environment, largely because it is the most visible area of damage that the common population can see without a microscope or without viewing the health of the same landscape over several years.
Damage done to wildlife may not always be outright destruction of an organism, but it can also incur significant health problems such as bleeding and lowered immune responses.
Pesticides are also known to affect animal behavior and their ability to reproduce, akin to the effects pesticides have in humans.
Less visible in the spotlight, however, is the effects of pesticides on insects. While we may target unwanted and overpopulated pests, the chemicals do not exclusively target these species. Unintended beneficial or pollinator insects in the area are often affected as well, such as beetles, spiders, bees, and flies.
While scientists are still doing research on this subject, as it is difficult to analyze, pesticides have been found to affect insects in much the same ways as animals and humans.
These chemicals affect grooming behavior, making them more susceptible to diseases which further kill off beneficial populations.
Pesticides can affect grooming behavior in insects, making them more susceptible to diseases which further kill off beneficial populations. Antimicrobial peptide production may also be inhibited, and they may lay fewer eggs than normal, lowering overall populations.
Effects Within the Soil
Herbicides are well known for their effects on plants, but to get to the roots, it must first travel through the soil. Likewise, pesticides of any kind can sink into the soil and cause unintentional harm to surrounding fauna and flora.
We know now that pesticides can move off-site and travel through the soil to reach groundwater sources and impact other ecosystems, but what happens to the soil when a pesticide is spilled, improperly used, or over-sprayed?
Degradation of Soil Quality
Removing the possibility of chemicals leaching into groundwater sources, the soil quality itself is degraded through chronic use of pesticides. Loss of soil fertility is the most striking and common effect caused by this chemical exposure.
Excess chemicals present in the soil through chronic exposure can cause an imbalance in the soil pH. Soil that is too alkaline or too acidic cannot harbor beneficial microbes or organisms and will support fewer plant species.
This imbalance in pH is felt particularly around agricultural areas, as overuse of chemicals in the soil will cause poor crop production and lower the overall health of the crop.
Over time, this loss in soil quality and fertility results in soil erosion, which is a growing problem across the globe.
Effects of Water Contamination
The effect of pesticides near sensitive ecological systems, including lakes, rivers, and other sources of freshwater supply have shown up in a myriad of ways. The health of aquatic life, drinking water availability, and human health are each affected by pesticide pollution in important water sources.
Scientists are discovering more links to how pesticide use shows up in these water sources, as well as the effects of exposure in the short- and long-term.
Harm to Aquatic Life
Even if pesticides are not intentionally used in or around water sources, these chemicals can still make their way into water sources and harm aquatic wildlife. (3) Aquatic wildlife are seen as particularly sensitive to changes in their environment, but it can be likened to our oxygen being contaminated with toxic chemicals. Similarly, we would be unable to handle the effects of this shift in our environment.
The application of pesticides may lead to contamination of the aquatic environment through several ways including: spray drift, runoff, and leaching.
Aquatic life covers more than fish; it can also include amphibians, aquatic mammals, and reptiles.
Chronic exposure to chemicals in pesticides have manifested in many ways in aquatic life, from increased bleeding to lower immune responses, reduced avoidance of predators, and reduced fish egg production.
Hormonal and weight impacts have also been recorded because of this chemical imbalance or toxicity.
Availability of Drinking Water
According to the EPA, pesticide use can contaminate drinking water supplies, which is concerning when these water supplies often overlap with agricultural areas.
While it does take a build up of pesticides over time, and regulations are now in place to deter pesticide use near drinking water supplies, contaminated water is not potable. Removing sources of drinking water from urbanized areas not only affects the local ecosystem, but it exacerbates a problem that continues to increase in frequency: groundwater decline and depletion.
While the planet is over 70% water, few sources are freshwater supplies that humans can reliably drink from. Depletion of freshwater sources combined with an increase in demand is a growing problem that has gotten little press.
Pesticides Can Take Time to Appear in Groundwater
Before pesticide spread was as well-known as it is today, it was once thought that soil protected groundwater from harmful pesticides, making streams the only direct threat. (4) Unfortunately, this was proven false as more research was performed, and researchers began seeing signs of contamination years after.
Before the mid-1970s, it was thought that soil acted as a protective filter that stopped pesticides from reaching groundwater. Studies have now shown that this is not the case.
Groundwater is still affected by pesticide use on land, even when there are no direct stream runoffs. The reason why it was thought to have no effect at all was because it is slowed drastically in comparison to direct runoff.
Pollution in the soil can take decades to reach sources of groundwater, especially if the pollution is at a significantly higher elevation and has many other obstacles. Many factors play into the exact timeline, such as the level of pollution, aquifer permeability, and depth to the groundwater source.
This is particularly a concern in farmland and other natural areas, as the effects are less visible to the daily citizen. Agricultural practices and commercial industry have continued strongly enough for this issue to be lost in a sea of other “background noise” issues despite its growing severity and repercussions to our environment.
Many people do not realize how much of our habitable land is unable to sustain a natural ecosystem due to agricultural cultivation. (5)
Today, the world population uses approximately 50 percent of total habitable land for agriculture.
This leaves roughly 21% of all habitable land for human expansion and industry, which also sees significant pesticide use just in everyday commercial or residential applications. On a grand scale, very little of the world’s habitable ecosystem is left untouched.
Most agricultural plots are sprayed annually, seasonally, or at even more frequent intervals, all of which leaks into groundwater sources over time; some through direct runoff, other times through groundwater seepage.
Without getting into the loss of plant biodiversity caused by singling out a select few subspecies of a particular plant for agricultural development, pesticide use only exacerbates the problem by removing any pests or keystone species that might pollinate surrounding plants as well.
Cities have their fair share of pesticide use and contaminates often rendering local waterways, ponds, and lakes to be rendered unsafe for swimming or “infertile” to the local ecosystem.
The issue of pesticide pollution is typically invisible here completely, as there are always more immediate tasks to the individual and natural resources can be taken for granted in a city setting.
Your content goes here. Edit or remove this text inline or in the module Content settings. You can also style every aspect of this content in the module Design settings and even apply custom CSS to this text in the module Advanced settings.
Who Regulates Pesticides and Their Uses?
In the United States, the EPA, DHS, and UPS all regulate various parts of pesticide trade and use, from manufacturing to shipping and transportation. Beyond that, individual states are allowed to regulate the sale and use of pesticides on a local level.
In Canada, pesticides must be registered under the authority of the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA.) Once pesticides are approved, they may be put up for sale on the retail market. After 15-years on the market, pesticides undergo a re-evaluation to continue their safety according to updated standards.
In Australia, the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) is responsible for the evaluation and registration of both agricultural and veterinary chemicals. This authority governs pesticides up until the point of sale. Individual states and territories are responsible for controlling how pesticides are used on a local level.
Beyond a baseline level of regulation on biological hazard chemicals established by international entities, not all countries have strict regulations that control the use of pesticides. (6)
In many developing countries programs to control exposures are limited or non-existent. As a consequence; it has been estimated that as many as 25 million agricultural workers worldwide experience unintentional pesticide poisonings each year.
In areas where regulations are sparse or non-existent, agricultural workers are left to suffer the consequences of unintentional poisonings and over-exposure to these dangerous chemicals first-hand.
Unregulated use can also lead to a buildup within the local environment as pesticides leach into water sources, disperse into the air, and harm aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems full of wildlife and plants.
What Can You Do: Local Action
The best way to take local action is to eliminate chemical pesticides wherever possible as well as reduce the frequency at which it is used.
Of course, this might not always be practical, but it is ultimately the best way to reduce the rate at which the local ecosystem is poisoned through exposure to these chemicals.
Especially as pesticides become the first option for a lot of households, rather than deterrents and preventative measures, scientists are noticing that a lot of bugs are even becoming resistant to the chemicals commonly used to target them.
This has been shown in roaches and bed bugs, which are both pests that are clearly unwanted in residential homes and commercial businesses and overpopulate if given the chance. This is known as “pesticide resistance” and has become increasingly common over time.
A more reasonable approach for many people is education and reduction. Educate yourself on the types of pesticides you are using and how they should (and should not) be used based on the chemicals they contain.
To deter pests from entering the home in the first place, you can plant native plants or plant oils that are known deterrents to the population of insects you are looking to avoid – for example, planting mint to deter stink bugs works well over spring and summer months.
Without the chronic use of pesticides, the hypothesis is that they are more likely to respond to these natural deterrents as their immune systems and sensitivity is raised through infrequent exposure. Many homes find success with these methods once pesticides are no longer sprayed.
If You Can’t Eliminate Pesticides…
There is, unfortunately, not always an opportunity to eliminate pesticides completely. These reasons are individual, but most commonly come down to the lack of authority to make the decision – as common in the case of tenant-landlord relationships – or as a last result in controlling invasive or non-native species after other solutions have been exhausted.
If you are unable to eliminate pesticides completely, there is some level of action that you can take in helping protect your local environment.
- Ensure pesticide companies are spraying according to label instructions
Inquiring after the types of chemicals used and their proper applications is usually acceptable, and by talking with your pesticide company with good intentions and a kind disposition, you can often ask questions and make requests to better educate yourself on their practices and ask for slight modifications.
- Apply only during the correct environmental conditions for the chemical
Many chemicals are intended for use only in certain conditions, but it is chemical-dependent. By understanding what chemical is used, you can learn the intended environmental conditions for application to minimize unintentional spread.
- Ensure pesticides are only being sprayed in the target areas
Monitor pesticide spraying and ensure that it is only within the target areas. If pesticides are being sprayed over pollinator plants and food sources for wildlife nearby the target area, you can request that these areas are avoided, or compile information about the benefits of keeping the non-target plants on the property.
- Make sure pesticides are stored properly, if on the property
If you store pesticides on the property, make sure that they are stored properly. Labels will often have instructions on how to store these chemicals and should be followed accordingly. This means keeping pesticides securely stored in the proper temperature ranges, away from open soil or other areas where spills could become hazardous.
- Ensure pollinator plant species are protected by distance and soil type
If you have dedicated food source plants for wildlife, ensure that these species are protected by distance from the pesticide application (to minimize the risk of exposure to drift.) Creating a soil barrier in a perimeter around these plants can also minimize unintentional exposure through leaching.
- Monitor the area for signs of over-exposure or unintentional exposure to wildlife: insects, animals, birds
Keep an eye out for signs that pesticides are being applied too frequently, in too-high concentrations, or in areas where wildlife seek food. Signs may include a number of insects, animals, or birds who fall ill and become lethargic, or pass away in a localized area. This could indicate poisonings; usually, a wildlife veterinary clinic can confirm through rehabilitative care or autopsy.
- EPA.gov, What Is a Pesticide?, https://www.epa.gov/minimum-risk-pesticides/what-pesticide
- Wasim Aktar, Impact of Pesticides Use in Agriculture: Their Benefits and Hazards, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2984095/
- Mohamed A. Hassaan, Ahmed El Nemr, Pesticides Pollution: Classifications, Human Health Impact, Extraction and Treatment Techniques, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1687428520300625
- gov, Pesticides in Groundwater, https://www.usgs.gov/special-topic/water-science-school/science/pesticides-groundwater
- Hannah Ritchie, Global Land Use for Food Production, https://ourworldindata.org/agricultural-land-by-global-diets
- Michael C.R. Alavanja, Dr.P.H., Pesticides Use and Exposure Extensive Worldwide, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2946087/