99.09% | Teen Ink


March 13, 2010
By Clara SILVER, Holland, Michigan
Clara SILVER, Holland, Michigan
5 articles 0 photos 5 comments

99.09%. It's a deadly number. It's an unsettling number. A number that could, in fact, be dangerous to all included in it. But what is it? It's the percentage of children who were found to have pesticide residue inside of them. Of 110 children living in suburban areas, only one of them was free of pesticides. Just hope that the child stays that way. There's a good chance that the number is similar for everyone in the U.S. But why, how, and who cares? The thoughts of many include: 'So what if some people have a little bit of weed killer or bug spray in them? Will the world come to an end? Yeah right, I'm moving on. Since when was weed-killer deadly to anything except the weeds and maybe something that eats it (and I sure don't)?'' Well, maybe the weed-killer by itself won't do you in, but there are a number of other pesticides that are plenty dangerous.

According to the American Heritage Dictionary a pesticide is 'a chemical used to kill harmful animals or plants. Pesticides are used especially in agriculture and around areas where humans live. Some are harmful to humans, either from direct contact or as residue on food, or are harmful to the environment because of their high toxicity.' The combination of being harmful to humans and being used in areas where humans live is not a good one. Basically, pesticides, insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, and a whole lot more other 'cides' are used all over the world to kill fungi or plants or pests or whatever comes before the 'cide'. America embraced them to get rid of anything annoying and live in a beautiful and perfect world. How nice. How pretty. What's my point? Well, we sprayed it on bugs, trees, and everything else, including ourselves and our food. We ate the food with the pesticide or insecticide or whatever it was on it. That's the story. Nothing happened, nothing dies, we keep on spraying our food. But then our world starts to change.

While we eat the food, the pesticide doesn't magically disappear or dissolve into our bodies. It stays there and builds up inside of us. It continues to build up with the food that we eat. Pesticides just aren't something great for your body to have inside of it. Anything could happen after that. Most commonly, you are at a high risk of getting cancer, or brain damage, and the pesticides will slowly begin to break down your immune system, making it easier for you to get sick. And in case you haven't noticed, there is a lot of cancer around here. Carcinogens are multi-factorial, meaning there are many factors involved, so while just one pesticide may not cause cancer, it may be one of the 'factors.' It's not just you, either. A pregnant mother with pesticide residue inside can damage the baby growing inside her. And that's true for any animal mothers. Many frogs give birth to babies that have deformities, like missing and deformed legs. Other animals' offspring can have similar deformities. So what's the solution? You can avoid pesticides by eating pesticide free foods, better known as organic foods. In order to be organic, the food is grown in a place that has not been sprayed with pesticides for a great while (usually starting at three years for certain foods and growing to many more for others), and it must be tested to make sure that it doesn't contain pesticides. The land undergoes periodic inspections and must be kept strictly away from non-certified products. This way, you can be sure that what you're eating is natural. (Of course, washing it is still a good idea.)

Okay, I might get cancer, but it'll take a while and it might not ever happen. But who says that eating organic food is the only way? Why can't I just wash my food off really well? And doesn't it take more energy to grow organic stuff anyway? I just want an earth and energy, I don't think it's necessary to waste extra energy on organics. The truth is that just washing the pesticide off doesn't work. If you were to think about it, the pesticide is sprayed on the developing plant, and seeps into the inside, too. So, it saturates through the whole of the plant and by washing it, you only get some of what's on the outside off. The pesticide used on the plant is made to stay there, although some comes off, it would take a very thorough soaking to get most of the pesticides off, and that's just on the outside. The truth is that if the plant was sprayed, it will always have at least some pesticide residue on it. Additionally, it takes less energy to grow organics. No energy is wasted on making or using pesticides. Where did the idea come from? I couldn't say, but it only makes sense that it takes less energy to grow organic foods. So for all you earth lovers and tree huggers, organic food is for you!

I believe that eating organic food leads to healthier people, animals, and plants. Why? Well, we know that it can cause problems in humans if it's in our food, but it can also travel other ways. It's not all about the humans here. Let's say a farmer sprays his corn with an insecticide to keep those annoying bugs away and to make more corn. That night, it rains, and some of that insecticide gets into the water and into the soil. The rain with the insecticide goes to the nearest place where it can be collected, sometimes a stream, or a pond. So what happens? It depends on where the insecticide goes. If it goes into the soil, it will most likely get into a worm or a bug that lives there. Although it might not seem that way, there are tons and tons of worms working under that field of corn, and there are probably at least some birds around. If a bird were to eat as little as 11 of those worms, it would be enough to kill the bird. Well, you might say, one bird, eleven worms, so what, and that was a lot of 'ifs'. Well, if that happened in all of America, it wouldn't just be a few birds, thousands of birds could die in just one part of a state. As for all the 'ifs' and 'coulds', a bird, for example a robin, can eat 11 worms in the same number of minutes, if not faster. That's not all, if something else were to eat some of the dead birds, no doubt the poison of the insecticide would get to it, too. Say the insecticide went to a river or lake instead, you can see where that would go. Anything that drank the water would get some of the insecticide inside of them, too. Even if it wasn't enough to kill the animal, it could harm it in the long term. Anything that lives in that water could be harmed, too. Studies have shown that pesticides that get into the water can not only cause the death of many fish, but also make them act strangely. The birds who eat the fish with the insecticide are also threatened. If the poison doesn't do immediate damage, it's still likely to threaten the population. If that bird lays an egg, the insecticide could cause the eggshell to be too thin and the mother would crush her baby before it hatched. Unfortunately, this goes on all the time. Peregrine falcons and bald eagles both straddled the line of extinction because the pesticides caused their eggs to thin. Nationwide autopsies of dead bald eagles collected by federal, state, and private cooperators routinely found DDT, DDE, dieldrin, polychlorinated biphenyls, and other pesticide and insecticide residues in bald eagle carcasses. In the 1960's, the bald eagle was named America's most polluted bird because of all the pesticides that killed them. The peregrine falcon similarly had a weak shell and it's said the best way to get the falcons back would be to eliminate all chemicals from their food source. Anything that is sprayed on a plant will not necessarily stay there. However, by supporting organic foods, less insecticides will be used and ultimately, there will be more life.

Okay, so now we know what happens if we use pesticides, so what happens to us when we eat organic foods? We know it's easier to avoid cancer and brain problems, and our immune system won't start to deteriorate. We know that we will have healthier children and that pesticides won't get into our water supply. We know the animals won't drop dead from pesticides and our world will have more fish and birds. Not to mention that many people prefer the taste of organic food. But many people want their food to be pretty and perfect. While organic food may not always be the very prettiest, many times it will be just fine. If you think it will be all gross, it probably won't, as long as it's not ancient. While out of 100 organic vegetables there might be 10 'bad' ones, if you looked at the non-organic, there could easily be as many. And if, eew, there's a bug in my broccoli, that just means that the bugs like it, too. It proves you're eating the good stuff and if you don't like bugs, don't eat them! While bugs could be a great source of protein (yum!) you don't need to eat them. If you think they're just too gross, I should mention that processed foods can have bugs in them, too. Rat and mouse droppings can be found in boxes of non-organic food any day and small bugs can lay eggs in your food, too. Food from factories can't always keep bugs out, so be glad you can at least see the bug to pull it out in some foods. So what about it's price? Organic foods can sometimes be a little more expensive, but that doesn't mean it's terrible. Some items, like coffee, bread, cereal, and some meats can even be less expensive. If more people buy organics, the cheaper they'll get. There are also organic co-ops, where you can easily find all sorts of organics for less. Also consider that organic farmers don’t receive federal subsidies like non-organic farmers do. Therefore, the price of organic food reflects the true cost of growing. The price of regular food does not reflect the cost of environmental cleanups that we pay for through our tax dollars. Organic farming also includes more labor, for example they must pull weeds instead of killing them, and organic farms are usually smaller than conventional (non-organic) farms. They don't benefit from the economies of scale that larger growers receive. They always have the risk of losing a year's crop. In the short run, (or if you could care less about federal subsidies and economy benefits) the improved taste and your security are great reasons for going organic. Imagine what good the money would be if you had a form of cancer that couldn't be cured. Plus, it just makes you feel good to be able to be kind to yourself, animals, and other people by supporting organic foods. You can buy just about anything organic. Organic milk can be found easily, (the cows aren't fed anything with pesticides or unnatural in it) as well as organic meats. Organic milk can also be better for you, with more antioxidants, omega, vitamins, and just a better quality. According to a study at the University of California, some organic foods, like the tomato, contain significantly larger amounts of antioxidants than the non-organic ones. In general, organic food has many benefits non-organic food doesn't have. Organic food is better for your health, has a better taste, is safer for the environment, and better for the animals involved. It makes people feel better to know that their chicken or cow was not confined to a life in a tiny miserable cage. How do you know how they treated the poor cow in your meat? Growth hormones are commonly used in animals to mass produce meat. (And might that hormone make its way to you?) Who knows, your cow could be a cloned cow. With organics, you know your cow doesn't have any growth hormones and probably had more to it's life than aiming to be on your plate.

There are many dangers in non-organics. Here are a few basic examples. Almonds, while a nutritious snack, can also be very bad for you. Almonds have 11 pesticides used on them. Two of those can cause cancer, six are suspected hormone disruptors and three neurotoxins (dangerous to the brain and nervous system). Cantaloupe is even worse, as many as 27 different pesticides are deep down in this fruit. Five are most likely carcinogens, fifteen hormone disruptors, eleven neurotoxins and four developmental and reproductive toxins. One of the worst is applesauce. Apples are one of the most heavily treated (with pesticides) fruits. Applesauce can have as many as twenty-eight different pesticides. Four carcinogens, nine hormone disruptors, eight neurotoxins, and four developmental and reproductive toxins can be detected/suspected in this food. While apples may be a little much, tons of your everyday foods could contain dangerous pesticides.

Still not convinced? Reading books with solid information can help to back up the information. While I can't prove that all of this is true, many different resources can help to show that the use of pesticides is harmful to both humans and animals. Many different studies have been done by many different people in various places. One important person in the environmental field was Rachel Carson, who studied the effect of pesticides on the natural world. Rachel discovered that a pesticide called DDT was harming people and animals at alarming rates and many other pesticides were harming living things in similar ways. Rachel Carson devoted her life to discovering the harm of pesticides, and was around dangerous pesticides for much of her life. Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring, a book about the environment and pesticides. It caused an environmental movement. She stopped the use of DDT, a pesticide that was severely harming people, plants and animals. She died at a fairly young age from breast cancer, which was most likely caused by the pesticides. Proof enough to say that pesticides can be very dangerous to humans. Being around pesticides or places with chemicals can be very harmful. Farmers who use pesticides are the most at risk. Those who used pesticides for more than 100 days were at a greater risk for diabetes. Studies showed that associations between one specific pesticide and incident diabetes ranged from 20% to 200% increase in risk.

About 10,000 people die every year due to pesticide poisoning. The World Health Organization says that three people are poisoned by pesticides every minute all around the world. And only some of that can be accounted for by the lack of regulation in developing countries, because only 25% of developing countries even use pesticides. Many more have cancer or brain damage. Pyrethrins, insecticides frequently used in common bug killers, can cause a potentially deadly condition if inhaled. A new study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston discovered a 70% increase in the risk of developing Parkinson's disease, or PD (a disorder of the central nervous system, impairing speech and the ability to move around) for people exposed to even low levels of pesticides. There are so many risks when using pesticides. How can people continue to support pesticides when organic is such a simple answer? Just think, 99.09% of those children are at risk. 99.09% could develop anything from cancer to PD. What does that mean for their future? What does it mean for yours?

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