When people think about pesticides, they often want to only think about the benefits that pesticides can potentially provide.
In a commercial sense, farmers spray pesticides on their fields to warn off insects and other pests. If effective, the pesticides protect the crops and allow farmers to have a higher yield. That means more food for them to sell and more food for the rest of the world.
Around your home, you and your neighbors may be using pesticides in your yard to kill weeds and keep pests out of your home. When the alternative means pulling weeds every weekend and fighting spiders, cockroaches, ants and other pests that find their way into your home, spraying a few pesticides around your home may seem like a necessary evil and worth the cost to the environment.
It’s easy not to think about the harm that pesticides do to the environment and especially our waterways. We think that if we don’t see the effects or experience them firsthand, then they can’t be all bad, right?
When used one farm lands and lawns in your neighborhood, pesticides can seep into the ground water and wind up back in your drinking water. Pesticides are poisonous in certain quantities, and they can be especially harmful to children — not to mention all of the organisms living in the water supply. Pesticides in drinking water can have a crippling effect on the ecosystem as a whole from the plants living in the lakes and rivers where we get our water straight to our homes. It’s in everyone’s best interest to keep drinking water as clean as possible, whether we can directly see the effects or not.
Think of it this way: You see the positive effects of clean drinking water everyday when you turn on the faucet to fill up a cup or take a shower. You might not see the negative effects of pesticides in drinking water, but you might be taking clean drinking water for granted every day — something people in other neighborhoods might not be able to do.
As they say, knowledge is power. The more you know about the crippling effects of chemical runoff from conventional pesticides in drinking water and other parts of the ecosystem, the more you’ll fight to avoid using them in your home. Here’s a detailed look at how chemical runoff from pesticides affect water supplies, communities and your home and health especially.
How pesticides go from field or lawn to drinking water
Pesticides come in different forms depending on application. You are probably most familiar with airborne ones, sprays that you might use on weeds in your garden or around the perimeter of your home. Other pesticides, however, can be directly applied to the ground.
Not all pesticides are innately toxic to the environment. In some cases, sunlight, bacteria in the soil and the pesticides chemical compound allow them to break down quickly without affecting the environment. However, there are pesticides that create even more toxic chemicals when broken down, so this can cause problems as well.
The harm a pesticide can do often depends on how volatile it is and its solubility. The more volatile a pesticide is, the easier it is for that pesticide to enter the atmosphere, which we’ll explain how below. The pesticide’s solubility determines how easy it is for that pesticide to dissolve in water.
To understand how pesticides move from a field or your lawn to your drinking water, it’s important to understand the basic way in which water moves.
If you think back to third-grade science, then you know that water evaporates when the temperature rises. Those particles can move easily once evaporated as they turn into clouds and vapor. When the particles become too heavy to hold in a cloud, rain or snow falls to the earth, depositing the water particles back down to the ground where it will eventually evaporate once more. In a nutshell, this is the water cycle.
When pesticides attach themselves to water particles, then they can enter the water cycle. Remember, clouds and vapor can move quickly, which means pesticides can as well. If water in a field near Houston evaporates, the pesticides in that field could be transported to waterways all over Texas and beyond. That also means that pesticides used just about anywhere else in the world can make their way into your drinking water.
The physical and chemical properties of the pesticide also plays a role in whether the pesticide will be able to enter the water cycle. There are also environmental factors that will determine whether a pesticide can enter the water cycle.
Pesticides that have a greater solubility can also enter the environment via rainwater as chemical runoff. When this happens, rainwater that moves out of fields and flows into rivers and lakes takes those chemicals right along with it — and that can cause serious trouble.
The effect of pesticides on the environment
When we talk about the environment here, we’re taking about natural habitats — forests, lakes and rivers. These are city parks as well as state and national parks where you might take your family hiking. All of these places are at risk for pesticides used in the environment.
As we mentioned, a pesticide’s volatility will determine how likely it is to become airborne. When a pesticide is airborne, it can move hundreds of miles and wind up in a number of different environments. It could land on foods growing in other fields or attach itself to plants in a nearby forest. When animals go to eat those plants, they could become sick and die, which could create a massive problem in the local food chain.
When a pesticide is has a high solubility, then it can dissolve easily in water and be carried away via runoff. In a natural environment, this can affect any animal or organism that uses that water supply. For plants who might absorb the contaminated water via soil, they can be poisoned and die, or an animal who eats the plant may get sick as well. When the pesticide is in the water itself, fish and other organisms living in the water may get sick and die, as will any animals, such as bears, that eat those fish. Actually, just drinking the water can also poison animals in the area.
Both of these factors can vary in strength, and just because a pesticide is not very volatile or has a low solubility doesn’t mean it won’t affect the environment. As mentioned before, a pesticide that breaks down can actually produce even more toxic chemicals. In short, there’s no winning with pesticides.
Who is most at risk from pesticides in the environment?
If you drink water contaminated with pesticides, then you are certainly at risk. However, pesticides can affect people in different ways depending on their age and how adaptive the body is to fighting off chemicals.
Most groups identify three types of people who at more of a risk than others when exposed to pesticides: children, pregnant women and aging populations. That doesn’t mean that thse people will immediately die when exposed to a pesticide, but they could experience severe symptoms that could drastically affect their health.
Children, for example, are always growing and developing. Too much exposure to a pesticide could stunt their physical as well as mental growth. Babies are especially at risk because their kidneys and livers cannot filter out pesticides as well as an adult’s. Children often spend time closer to the ground and outside where pesticides are easily found, than they’re more likely to put things that don’t belong in their mouths. This is a normal price that comes with having children, but it can be a problem with pesticides.
When a woman is pregnant, she’s sharing pretty much every part of her body with her baby. If she is exposed to a pesticide, the baby will be as well. If exposed too much, the baby’s development could be affected, and in some extreme cases, death can occur.
As we age, our immune systems slow down, and they have a tougher time fighting off pathogens and other chemicals. For aging populations, even smaller exposures to harmful pesticides can be dangerous. Their bodies may not be able to fight off the chemicals, and they could become sick or even die.
When considering a pesticide, remember to think about its toxicity and exposure and the balancing act between the two. A low-toxicity pesticide used in a tight space can become toxic very quickly.
Examples of pesticides affecting drinking water in the news
You don’t have to look far to find examples of contaminating drinking water and its effects on communities around the United States and the rest of the world. Even in one of the richest countries in the world, there are many communities that don’t have access to clean drinking water.
You might think, “Well, they can just drink bottled water,” but that’s only the start of the problem. People living in those communities cannot take a shower in the water or bathe their children. When they want to cook, they can’t use the water from the tap — that means no boiling water for pasta or even washing off an apple without reaching for bottled water. Plants can’t be watered and hands can’t be washed. Not having access to clean water goes far beyond not drinking water from the tap.
News outlets all over the world have been reporting on the effects of pesticides in water and the environment. Here are a few stories you should be following and some in-depth reports on communities affected by unsafe drinking water.
Roundup lawsuits: Thousands of lawsuits have been filed against Bayer, the manufacturer of Roundup weed killer. Earlier this year, the state of California ruled that the glyphosate-based weedkiller was responsible for causing cancer. For more, check out these stories:
Stories of contaminated drinking water: These features focus on communities where drinking the water is unsafe.
But as with everything in life, pesticides complicate things when other factors, such as the risk of mosquito-spread diseases, are at play. These stories from around the country show how all these factors can create problems for communities.
How Natran responds to pesticides
The best thing we can all do for the safety and health of our plant and ourselves is find ways to limit our use of pesticides. That’s why we at Natran always recommend using integrated pest management in the home as a way to prevent pests without resorting to harmful chemicals.
Integrated pest management refers to a system of simple, easy-to-do activities around your home that will decrease the amount of pests in your home without spraying chemicals all over your house and lawn. It combines some common-sense tactics with a little science to fight pests within your home.
Of course, part of the integrated pest management strategy is knowing when to call in a professional, and that’s where Natran comes in. Our approach to pest management involves using botanical-based products, so you can be certain that when our experts show up at your door, your kids and pets will be safe from harmful chemicals. Not only will be stop the infestation, but we’ll give you peace of mind.
Tell us: How are you learning about pesticides and their effects on our drinking water? Share with us in the comments.