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The Great Pesticide Poisoning


By James Donahue


Back when I had room in my back yard, I used to be an avid gardener. I have always related to the Earth, I enjoy watching plants grow and come to maturity, and my family shared my enthusiasm for the fresh home-grown produce that a garden will generate.


But I, like hundreds of thousands of other home gardeners, farmers and even florists fell victim to the lure of the garden store sold bug killers. When you find giant green worms munching away on your beautiful tomato plants, ugly little bugs chewing on your potato plant leaves and aphids in the flowers, you tend to want to do something drastic to protect your little kingdom. A quick dusting of an innocent little white powder, bought at the garden supply store, always did the trick.


Oh yes, we heard the warnings about DDT and some of the other "bad" pesticides, but it was hard to believe that innocent looking white powder inside the box in the garage was really that dangerous. Sure, it killed bugs, but they wouldn't have sold it to us if it was dangerous to our health. Would they?


As it turned out, there was nothing to fear for us gardeners. As soon as one pesticide was yanked off the market, those wonderful chemical companies replaced it with something else that did the trick. We could always find a good bug killer to buy in that garden supply store. Heck, if we wanted to go nuts on our lawns, we could even buy great chemical compounds that destroyed dandelions and other weeks, but let the grass grow green and lush. Wasn't science great?


Well, the chickens are coming home to roost, as they always used to say down on the farm. None of that stuff was good for either us, or the environment. And there is a sick feeling in my heart that we have all succeeded in poisoning ourselves in ways we could not have imagined. And the poisons are still being consumed daily on our dinner tables.


A recent report in the London Globe (not in the U.S. papers please note) told of a survey of over 1,300 Americans by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that the body of the average American contains traces of at least 13 weed and bug killing chemicals. Everyone tested showed evidence of some chemicals in their system. There were no exceptions.


One surprise was that 99 percent of Americans, including all children born in recent years, had DDT residues. Yet the use of this insecticide has been banned in the United States since the late 1960s. How could this be, you ask. The answer is simple. We don't allow the use of DDT in the United States, but the U.S. chemical companies still make this pesticide to sell to farmers and gardeners all over the world, including Mexico and places where we now buy much of our produce. Consequently, we eat DDT with our salads, our tomatoes and those onions we buy that were grown in Mexico.


More than half of the people tested also had traces of the lawn herbicide 2, 4-D. I remember my father loved to use that stuff on the family farm. He found it was great for getting rid of unwanted burdock and poison ivy along the fence rows and behind the barn. There was always a sack of it in the garage or one of the storage sheds. But 2, 4-D has been found to be just as toxic as all of the other chemicals to the humans that came in physical contact, breathed the dust, or ate it.


Why the alarm? What can this stuff do to us? Here is a rundown on the major chemicals we used, and that are still being found in our bodies. Included is a brief list of what each chemical can do to us. Notice that most can cause cancer, liver failure, allergic reactions, and harm our nervous system.


Chlordane was widely used as a pesticide and fumigating agent in the Untied States from 1948 to 1978. Currently the chemical is still allowed in the U.S. for home termite control and can be found in electric transformers. The stuff is still manufactured, however, for use in other countries. The chemical remains in our food chain to this day. It is linked to cancer, disorders in children, and is known to harm the endocrine system, nervous system, digestive system and liver.


Hexachlorobenzene was widely used as a pesticide until 1965. It remains in the soil to this day. It also was used to make fireworks, ammunition and synthetic rubber. There are no commercial users of this chemical today in the U.S. But it is a by-product from burning of municipal waste. The stuff builds up in fish, birds, lichens and animals that eat lichens. It also is found in wheat, grasses and some vegetables grown on contaminated soil. The stuff is linked to liver disease, skin sores, arthritis, thyroid, bone, kidney, blood and immune disorders.


Aldrin and dieldrin are insecticides that a similar in chemical structure. They are white powders used widely on crops like corn and cotton until they were banned in 1974. The chemicals still are used for termite control, thus people living in homes that have been chemically treated for pests may still be exposed. The poison is stored in body fat and stays in the body for a long time. Exposure in the air can cause headaches, dizziness, irritability, vomiting and uncontrolled muscle movements.


Merex, also known as Kepone, is the chemical chlordecone, also used as an insecticide. Its use is already restricted and banned in several countries. The chemical is a known carcinogen, and is known to cause nervousness, joint pains and tremors.


Toxaphene is yet another insecticide now banned in the U.S. This product contains over 670 chemicals. It was one of the most heavily used insecticides in the U.S. until 1982 and was banned in 1990. It was primarily sprayed on cotton crops in the south, used to control flies on livestock and kill unwanted fish in lakes. The stuff is still around in the soil, in water wells and in fish and mammals that were exposed to it. Eating contaminated food or just being around an incinerator where exposed refuse is being burned can bring exposure. Breathing, eating or drinking high levels of toxaphene can damage the lungs, nervous system and kidneys and even cause death.


Endrin is a pesticide that was generally used in the U.S. to control insects, rodents and birds until 1986. It still can be found in hazardous waste sites where people can be exposed. Its effects include severe central nervous system injury, including headaches, nervousness, confusion, nausea, vomiting, convulsions and even death.


Heptachlor was used under a variety of brand names until 1988 as an insecticide in homes, buildings and food crops. It remains in the soil and the body for many years. It is known to damage the nervous system and the liver.


The environmental group Greenpeace warns that variable amounts of these and other persistent poisons can be found everywhere on the planet and in the body of every human being. They last a long time in the environment, accumulate in the fat tissues of animals, contaminate food and are passed from mother to child in the womb and through mother's milk.


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