pesticides, particularly malathion, dangerous?
Tuesday, August 17, 2004
From the editors of E/The Environmental
Organophosphate pesticides (OPs),
which include the widely used insecticide malathion, are chemically
related to nerve gases developed during World War II. For decades,
scientists have been debating whether such pesticides cause birth
defects, cancers, and other health problems.
shown links between regular exposure to malathion and various human
maladies, including non-Hodgkins lymphoma, childhood leukemia,
anemia, chromosome damage, and weakened immune systems. Meanwhile,
aerial sprayings have been known to cause allergic reactions or
flulike symptoms for people inadvertently
Malathion was developed by the Swiss chemical
giant Ciba-Geigy back in the 1950s as an agricultural crop
insecticide and for pest control in homes and gardens. Today, more
than 15 million pounds are applied annually in the United States,
according to the Pesticide Action Network.
While such OPs are
used to control crop-damaging insects, they kill beneficial bugs as
well. OPs are found in hardware stores under names like Dursban,
Diazinon, Sevin Dust, and Baygon. They’re also widely used by
Malathion and other pesticides are
especially dangerous to children, who are more vulnerable to
neurotoxins than adults, noted Kert Davies, pesticide specialist for
the Environmental Working Group. "We recommend avoiding the use of
any organophosphates in the home or garden," he
To protect your family from pesticide residues on
foods, eat organic food as much as possible. If organic offerings
have not yet made it into your supermarket, the online informational
resource Local Harvest provides a national online directory to help
you find organic stores and farmers' markets near
To control lawn and garden pests, use the
least-toxic method you can find, and pull weeds the old-fashioned
way: by hand.
The organization Beyond Pesticides maintains an
online searchable database, called "Safety Source for Pest
Management," for locating pest management companies around the
United States that use nontoxic and least-toxic
Also, The Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to
Pesticides has several informative fact sheets on pesticide-free
solutions to various types of pest problems.
kids' schools are not using least-toxic pest management methods,
lobby them to start immediately. Beyond Pesticides' "Safer Schools"
report provides online case studies of hundreds of schools across
the country that have controlled pest issues successfully without
exposing students to pesticides.
While malathion and
other OPs undoubtedly can wreak havoc on human health, its
producers, many scientists, and even some environmentalists believe
the problems pesticides solve — that is, the curbing of
infestation outbreaks — outweigh the risks of using them. But
regardless, taking precautions against unnecessary exposure is our
best hope for preventing ill