Pesticide Controversies

June 5, 2015 • Volume 25, Issue 21
Do insect and weed killers harm humans and wildlife?
By Jennifer Weeks


A poster warns against eating fish from Richmond Harbor, in San Francisco Bay (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
A poster warns against eating fish from Richmond Harbor, in San Francisco Bay, because of high DDT levels near an abandoned pesticide-handling facility that went bankrupt in the 1960s. The Environmental Protection Agency, which banned the highly toxic pesticide in 1972, has cleared more than three tons of pure DDT from the site but the chemical persists in the environment and in marine life in the area. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

Pesticides shield crops from destructive insects, weeds and molds. They also are used in homes, factories, parks and backyards to control pests that spread infectious diseases. But some public health experts, along with environmental and health advocates, argue that pesticides also threaten human health and the environment. Pesticide residues in food have decreased over the past 20 years as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reduced permissible levels in many foods and canceled use of some older pesticides. But consumer advocates warn that some products remain unsafe. Studies indicate that pesticides are contributing to widespread declines of bees, butterflies and other creatures that pollinate plants, including many food crops. The declines can drive up costs for farmers and reduce harvests of some crops. The EPA has proposed tighter standards to protect farmworkers from pesticide exposure. However, critics say federal agencies also need to pay more attention to health risks associated with long-term exposure to very low levels of pesticides.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Jun. 05, 2015  Pesticide Controversies
Aug. 06, 1999  Regulating Pesticides
Jan. 28, 1994  Regulating Pesticides
Apr. 30, 1982  Pesticide Controversies
May 20, 1964  Pesticide Control
Agriculture and the Environment
Consumer Protection and Product Liability
Hazardous Substances and Nuclear Waste
Wildlife and Endangered Species