Pesticides: The Silent Killer

This article was written by Daisy A., an Essex County, NJ Middle School Student.

The following article is a part of a new series, “Listening to Youth Voices in the New Year.” Each Sunday, articles written by Essex County Middle School students will be published, each week relating to a new topic. You can learn more about this series here.

An epidemic is sweeping the nation, killing, hurting, and severely mutating even those who have barely contacted the source. However this epidemic is not directly hurting us. This time animals are the victims, and this time we should care. The overuse of pesticides in the US is hurting more organisms and ecosystems than it is helping humans. People have abused their power as a more intelligent, seemingly superior species. We harm other animals to the point of death if they do so much as touch our crops once. Many species are endangered due to pesticide use, and many pollinators like bees have stopped producing pollen to help crop reproduction. Not to mention, pesticides pollute the air we breath and the water we drink.

ENDANGERED SPECIES

Pesticides severely endanger many innocent creatures. Almost 1,700 species of animals are harmed because of pesticides. In addition, 97% of all endangered animals (including fish, reptiles, and plants) are affected by a widely used insecticide called Malathion. The question is: how are large mammals affected by pesticides when most pesticides are only used to effect insects and smaller pests? It has to do with the food chain.

One prime example to observe has to do with raptors, or birds of prey. For the most part, pesticides enter these birds’ bodies through contaminated food. Raptors only consume meat, and with the overuse of pesticides today, most of the food a raptor will eat will be infected with pesticides. Once the meat is consumed by the bird, the pesticides start to be absorbed by the inner tissues of the bird. This seriously affects the birds in multiple ways. Says Ed Clark, president of the Wildlife Center of Virginia, “How… does an eagle that can see its prey from a mile away manage to get hit by a tractor trailer truck? The overwhelming majority of birds we treat have been poisoned first”. Because most chemicals in pesticides can take over the nervous system of these raptors, many die from their lack of coordination after being affected. This can cause many species of raptor to become threatened or critically endangered.

Another key point involves bats. Bats across the globe have been suffering a relatively new disease called “White Nose Syndrome,” or WNS. This disease, according to White Nose Syndrome.org, is “... a disease affecting hibernating bats. Named for the white fungus that appears on the muzzle and other parts of hibernating bats, WNS is associated with extensive mortality of bats in eastern North America.” First introduced in the winter of 2006-2007, 5.7 million bats in eastern North America alone have perished. The source of the fungus “Pseudogymnoascus destructans” is most connected to pesticide use. As stated by the IPM Practitioner, “Average DDT lipid concentrations in sick bats (12100 ng/g) were about six times those found in healthy bats (2460 ng/g).” Clearly, this correlation is not something to be ignored. Bats primarily feast on insects, and if they consume food affected by pesticides or insecticides such as methoprene and BTI, their risk of WNS is severely increased. As bats are considered one of the slowest reproducing animals in the world- reproducing only in the spring, there is considerable concern about the recovery of these mammals.

This is not a fluke. Pesticides are taking their toll on animals large and small in a horrifying way, driving many to the point of near extinction.

POLLINATORS AND PESTICIDES

It is also the case that pesticides have been causing a decrease in the population of pollinators. The irony is that while pollinators are essential to the reproduction of many plants, pesticides which help plants too are hurting the pollinators. What would be the point of pesticides if there were no pollinators (or plants) left? In fact, according to the organization “Beyond Pesticides,” “90% of all flowering plants require pollinators to survive.”

Bees, one of the most important pollinators of them all, have been severely impacted. As most know, when a bee collects nectar from a flower, the flower’s reproductive organs stick to the hairs of the bee’s body. As the bee finds other flowers, the reproductive organs from the original plant are spread. Some plants cannot reproduce if a bee just brushes them, however. These plants need a special type of pollination called “buzz pollination” to release the pollens of the plant from the inside. This occurs when “The bee lands on a flower, curls her body around the anther and grips the base with her mandibles. She then rapidly contracts the flight muscles to produce the vibration, without beating her wings” says Penelope Whitehorn of the University of Stirling in Scotland. Some of the many plants that need buzz pollination include blueberries, tomatoes, kiwis, and aubergines. Unfortunately, a new study has proved that bees susceptible to the neonicotinoid pesticide thiamethoxam are not able to buzz properly, and thus don’t pollinate nearly as well when compared to bees untouched by the insecticide. Without buzz pollination, many beloved fruits and vegetables would be almost unattainable.

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, “insect pollinators contribute over $200 billion in pollination services for approximately two-thirds of crop species and most wild flowering plants.” Why are we endangering the economy as well as crucial pollinating species? We are abusing our power as humans by endangering the organisms that create the crops we are trying to protect. It must end now. If we continue to abuse our power with pesticides, there will soon be nothing left for us to use them on!

POLLUTION

A final note to understand is that pesticides spread very easily from their targeted source, wreaking havoc along the way. This is called “Pesticide Drift” or when pesticides are sprayed but are then blown off course due to outside factors like wind or rain. The issue is that these chemicals don’t disappear. They drift over to playgrounds, schools, even the skin of someone. In fact, as researched by Pesticide Action Network (PAN), more than 95% of released pesticides end up missing their targets.

Groundwater is especially exposed to pesticides. At first scientists didn’t believe that spraying pesticides near water was a big deal as the soil would act as a protective layering, but that of course is not the case. Due to either pesticide drift or improper disposal, pesticides can still seep into 50% of our country’s water supply. Pesticides also lower air quality in the same ways. Even the manufacturing of pesticides will release them into the air we rely on to stay alive. To demonstrate, a US Geological study found that roundup herbicide, a type of weed killer, was found in 75% of all air and rainfall in Mississippi in 2014.

Unfortunately for many of us, pesticides have serious side effects. A lab done at Cornell University showed the impacts of certain chemicals from pesticides found in groundwater on lab rats. For example, ethylene dibromide (a synthetic substance found in most pesticides) caused cancer, genetic mutations, and even facial deformities on the rats tested. Another chemical, dichloropropane, caused acute gastrointestinal distress, and kidney and lung damage. This is evidence that the pesticides that make their way into half of the country’s water supply can do serious damage to humans and animals alike.

Given these points, it is clear that humans abuse their power with pesticides. We are so dedicated to protecting our crops from any possible spoliation that we endanger ourselves and other animals alike! Our overuse of pesticides has gone too far. It evidently harms animals. It affects the pollinators that create the crops we protect. It affects us. We use pesticides to protect our crops from other animals that may contaminate them. It is time we consider that we may be the pests to those animals.

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