Pesticides Are in So Many Many Foods. Did You Know They May Also Be in Your Home?

By now, most everyone knows that the pesticides used by industrial farming operations pollute the air, linger in the soil and turn up on many foods—including Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.

Now, a new study suggests those pesticides could also be in your home.

A team of researchers from Cornell University conducted pesticide analyses as part of a larger effort to study  pollutants in homes and childcare facilities. Scientists sampled 350 rural homes in six New York state counties, looking for more than a dozen potentially toxic pesticides commonly used in conventional farming operations.

According to their analysis, published in September in JSM Health Education & Primary Health Care, 100 percent of the homes tested contained agricultural pesticide residues.

Joseph Laquatra, one of the researchers and a professor of design and environmental analysis at the College of Human Ecology, told the Cornell Chronicle that his team found that “pesticide residues are ubiquitous in rural homes in New York state.

Laquatra told the Chronicle why the public should be concerned, especially when it comes to babies and small children:

“Numerous health problems occur from exposure to pesticides, such as cancer, birth defects, leukemia and ocular [vision-related] toxicity, among a number of other health issues. Households with crawling toddlers should be concerned, as toddlers will accumulate pesticide residues on their hands and then ingest them due to hand-to-mouth behaviors.”

Despite the proven health risks, data shows that Americans use over a billion pounds of pesticides per year. Worldwide, that number is closer to 5.6 billion pounds.

Natural remedies for fighting pests

Pesticides applied in the home to kill pests, or on lawns and gardens, often up end accumulating in household dust. Pesticides applied outdoors may be tracked into your home on shoes, clothing and even animal fur. Once inside, these chemicals can persist much longer than they do outdoors, where sun and rain degrade them more quickly.

Fortunately, there are ways to reduce exposure to pesticide pollution in your home. For starters, ditch your chemical pest control. There are many non-toxic options when it comes to dealing with pests in your home. 

Integrated pest management, for example, focuses on preventing infestations before they start, and uses chemicals only as a last resort. This strategy includes repairing ripped window and door screens and using silicone caulk to seal off any cracks in the exterior of your home.

The next step is to keep a clean home. It sounds cliché, we know. But pests love floors and countertops riddled with food, so be sure to clean up spills and vacuum and dust regularly. 

Already have a pest problem? Try sweeping up individual bugs and nests. Or trap them in an airtight vacuum bag. Mousetraps, flytraps and jar traps are another effective way to kill persistent pests without having to spray your entire home with chemicals.

You may also dust cracks and crevices with boric acid powder or food-grade Diatomaceous Earth, which is non-toxic to humans but can effectively kill any insect with an exoskeleton.

Integrated pest management is “a low-cost, environmentally friendly solution that has been proven in studies to slash pest-removal costs by one-third—and pest complaints by 90 percent,” states the Natural Resources Defense Council. Click here to learn more about natural, chemical-free methods for dealing with pests.

Mounting research links pesticide exposure to serious harm in children, unborn babies

The research linking pesticide exposure to serious health hazards in children and in developing fetuses is strong.

A class of pesticides known as organophosphates (OPs) are believed to be so dangerous that an expert panel of toxicologists recently called for an outright ban on the chemicals. Exposure to OP pesticides has been shown to increase the risk of autism and lower IQs in prenatal children, causing memory and attention deficits, research shows.

Irva Hertz-Picciotto, director of the UC Davis Environmental Health Sciences Center, recently told UC Davis environmental health sciences center the Guardian:

“We have compelling evidence from dozens of human studies that exposures of pregnant women to very low levels of organophosphate pesticides put children and fetuses at risk for developmental problems that may last a lifetime.”

Also proven dangerous to children and developing fetuses is an insecticide known as chlorpyrifos, an OP pesticide that’s widely used in agriculture and is linked to brain damage and numerous other health problems.

Manufactured by Dow Chemical, chlorpyrifos are widely used by municipalities, golf courses and in agriculture where it’s applied to many commonly eaten foods including apples, oranges, strawberries, corn and broccoli.

The Obama administration moved to ban chlorpyrifos in 2015, but the Trump administration has since reversed that decision. However, in August 2018 a federal court ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to ban chlorpyrifos within 60 days based. on compelling evidence linking the chemical to brain damage in children. The Trump administration is currently appealing that ruling.

In addition to ditching chemical pesticides and keeping a clean home, eating organic is another surefire way to protect you and your family from the harm caused by pesticides.

A recent study out of France found that eating an organic diet may help protect against cancer. The study followed 70,000 adults (most of them women) for five years and observed a 25-percent reduction in cancer diagnoses (especially in lymphoma and breast cancer) among those who ate an organic diet, including organic produce, dairy and meat.

Julie Wilson is communications associate for the Organic Consumers Association (OCA).

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