The purpose of pesticides is to kill pests and insects that threaten the livelihood of farmers and the quality of their crops. However, pesticides do not discriminate against species and have harmful and even deadly effects on humans as well. The World Health Organization estimates that there are approximately 3 million annual incidents of pesticide poisoning, with around 220,000 deaths, primarily in developing countries. Imprecise application of pesticides in these regions can cause unintended exposure to other organisms within the general area of application. Children are particularly vulnerable to harm from pesticides, with even low exposure levels during developmental stages creating the possibility of adverse health effects.
The symptoms of pesticide exposure vary between the different types, but can cause a range of neurological health effects such as coordination loss, memory loss, impaired vision, decreased reaction time, altered mood, and reduced motor skills. These symptoms are often fairly subtle and may be misdiagnosed when initially evaluated. Other non-neurological health effects include allergies, asthma, hypersensitivity, reproductive problems, and hormone disruption.
Children are at greater risk from pesticides not only because of their small size, but because they eat, drink, and breathe more than adults relative to their size. The developmental nature of their bodies and systems makes them even more susceptible, with potential exposure even in the womb.
Pesticide formulas contain both active and inert ingredients, of which the active ingredients are what actually kill the pest and the inert ingredients help the active ingredients to work more effectively. These inert ingredients may not be as thoroughly tested as active ingredient and are rarely disclosed on product labels. Here are a few types of pesticides and the symptoms they can cause:
Organochlorines – Ingestion of organochlorine pesticides can cause dizziness, nausea, vomiting, confusion, tremors, hypersensitivity, and loss of sensation near the mouth.
Organophosphates and Carbamates – According to the CDC, organophosphates and carbamates can cause increased salivation and perspiration, narrowing of the pupils, diarrhea, nausea, decrease in blood pressure, muscle weakness, and fatigue. Some organophosphates also have neurological effects that can be characterized by muscle weakness in the arms and legs.
Pyrethroids – Pyrethroids are a synthetic alternative to organophosphates, but still can cause many harmful side effects such as aggressiveness, loss of coordination, seizures, and body tremors. They can also cause an allergic response to the skin if there is acute exposure from poor handling procedures.
Herbicides – Herbicides are generally not as toxic as insecticides, typically interfering with plant hormones or enzymes that do not have a direct animal counterpart. However, there are still health concerns with some active ingredients.
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