Rachel Carson

The Problem of Pesticides: They Get Into Places They Don’t Belong

Rachel CarsonRachel Carson warned us of the dangers of pesticides in Silent Spring. And it took years for poisons like DDT to be outlawed.

However, we’re still dumping millions of pounds of pesticides on farms every year. Although the actual usage seems to have leveled off, according to EPA data available through 2001, more than 675 million pounds of the stuff was used in the agriculture industry.

Of the top six chemicals – measured by millions of pounds used – four are herbicides: Glyphosate (85-90 million), Atrazine (74-80 million), Acetochlor (30-35 million), and 2,4-D (28-33 million). The other two are Metam Sodium (a fumigant, 57-62 million) and Malathion (an insecticide, 20-25 million).

All these millions of pounds are getting into places where they don’t belong.

Organophosphate pesticides – which can be used on some crops intended for human consumption – are not permitted on culinary herbs. In 2006 and 2007, pesticide “drift” caused trace amounts of the chemical to contaminate herbs grown by Jacobs Farm/Del Cabo Inc. Because the company couldn’t sell those herbs, they sued pesticide applicator, Western Farm Service.

California’s Sixth Appellate District Court upheld the right of Jacobs Farm/Del Cabo to sue for damages from pesticide drift, and to collect damages awarded.

On a much more serious note, who is going to sue to protect farm workers exposed to pesticides in the fields in Salinas Valley?

University of California at Berkeley, the Natividad Medical Center, Clinica de Salud Del Valle de Salinas and other community organizations have partnered to create the Center for Health Assessment of Mothers and Children of Salinas (CHAMACOS) which is studying exposure to pesticides and other pollutants in pregnant women and young children to determine the effects on their health.

The project has discovered a variety of developmental and behavioral disorders as well as health problems like asthma and high blood pressure, all of which correlate to high exposure to agricultural chemicals.

Rachel Carson died in 1964, long before even the mothers of the children in these studies were born. And just now – nearly 50 years later – we are finally beginning to identify the problems caused by the heavy use of pesticides.