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The Impact of Long-Term Exposure to Pesticides & Other Chemicals Used in Farming

Pesticides provide significant economic benefits to farmers by protecting the crop from pest infestation and increasing the production and yield of food. However, recent studies have suggested that pesticides adversely impact human health and the environment.

Aarushi Chadha
The growing concerns regarding the long-term health impacts of exposure to pesticides have motivated farmers to use natural pesticides and use indigenous practices to control pests

Pesticides are chemical substances that are meant to control kill or repel forms of animal and plant life considered to damage or be a nuisance in agriculture. Herbicides, nematicides, molluscicides, rodenticides, bactericides, insect repellents, animal repellents, microbicides, and fungicides are examples of pesticides.

Pesticides play an integral part in the process of cultivation as it reduces loss to the crop from weeds, diseases, and insect pests. It has increased earnings for farmers, lead to disease prevention, and increased food output. The growing concerns regarding the long-term health impacts of exposure to pesticides have motivated farmers to use natural pesticides and use indigenous practices to control pests.

Let us take a look at the health impact of long-term exposure to pesticides.

Human beings get exposed to pesticides either actively through participating in manufacturing pesticides or applying them on the field, or passively through non-occupational exposure, such as ingesting food and water contaminated with pesticides or inhaling pesticides during fumigation.

The risk of pesticide exposure depends on the toxicity and the exposure to the pesticide. Short-term exposure or exposure to a single dose of pesticide will lead to acute toxicity of pesticide with its health effects. Whereas chronic toxicity results from repeated exposure to a pesticide over a long period of time.

  • Cancer- Prolonger exposure to pesticides increases the risk of developing cancer in people. Brain tumours, lung cancer, prostate cancer, breast cancer, and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma are some common cancers that can develop from prolonged exposure to pesticides.

  • Damage to lungs- Prolonged exposure to pesticides can cause excessive damage to the lungs. Damage to the lungs can lead to tightness of the chest, persistent cough, asthma, and bronchitis. Smoking cigarettes can make lung disease signs even worse.

  • Reproductive health issues- Studies indicate that pesticides can affect people’s ability to not only have children but to also have healthy children. Prolonged exposure to certain pesticides has made several male farmers unable to have children because they can no longer produce sperm. Studies have also shown that pregnant women exposed to pesticides put their children at a higher risk of having birth defects, such as severe learning difficulties, allergies, and other health problems. In women, prolonged exposure to pesticides increased their chances of miscarriages or stillbirths.

  • Severe damage to the liver- The liver plays an important role in our body, which is removing toxins from the blood. However, the concentration of chemicals in pesticides is very high and it proves to be very strong for our liver to get rid of. Therefore, working with pesticides for many years can cause severe damage to the liver.

  • Neurological damage- Research indicates that acute exposure to high levels of pesticides that affect the central nervous system can cause cognitive and motor changes.

Environmental Impact of Prolonged Exposure to Chemical Pesticides

  1. Reduces honeybee population- Research into the reducing honeybee population indicated that most pesticides are toxic to bees. Pesticides, such as neonicotinoids, are specifically implicated in the reduction of the honeybee population causing many European countries to completely ban them.

  2. Pollutes water- We all know that indiscriminate application of pesticides in agricultural fields not only pollutes the groundwater but also harms creeks, rivers, and lakes when it is washed by rain. The pesticide runoff poses an enormous threat to fishes and other aquatic life as it can upset their food chains.

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