Impacts of pesticides on our health

Impacts of pesticides on our health

Pesticides are poisons and, unfortunately, they can harm more than just the “pests” at which they are targeted. They are toxic, and exposure to pesticides can cause a number of health effects. They are linked to a range of serious illnesses and diseases from respiratory problems to cancer.

Exposure

Exposure to pesticides can occur in many ways. Farmers and farm workers can be exposed to pesticides in agriculture through the treatment of crops, plants and grain stores. Rural residents living next door to farms can be exposed to pesticide drift. Exposure can also occur in forestry, professional and domestic pest control, through the treatment of wood with preservatives, the treatment of boat hulls with anti-fouling agents, and the treatment of livestock with anti-parasitic preparations, e.g. sheep dip. In our towns and cities we are exposed to pesticides through the spraying of amenities, such as our parks, pavements and playgrounds. Many people buy pesticides off the shelf for home and garden use. And finally, pesticide residues found on, and in, our food also puts us at risk.

Should you be concerned?

Acute toxicity

Pesticides can be acutely toxic. This means that they can cause harmful or lethal effects after a single episode of ingestion, inhalation or skin contact. The symptoms are evident shortly after exposure or can arise within 48 hours. They can present as:

  • respiratory tract irritation, sore throat and/or cough
  • allergic sensitisation
  • eye and skin irritation
  • nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea
  • headache, loss of consciousness
  • extreme weakness, seizures and/or death

Chronic (or long term) toxicity

Pesticides can cause harmful effects over an extended period, usually following repeated or continuous exposure at low levels. Low doses don’t always cause immediate effects, but over time, they can cause very serious illnesses.

Long term pesticide exposure has been linked to the development of Parkinson’s disease; asthma; depression and anxiety; attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD); and cancer, including leukaemia and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

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