A pest is a broad term to define any entity that threatens the health or safety of the environment or people. Pesticides are the means of removing, preventing or killing pests. There is a great deal of focus on the use of chemicals in pest control. Part of the concern is the overall residual effects of these chemicals on both human and environmental health.
There is a long history of using chemicals for pest control in agriculture. In fact, farmers are the strongest proponents for chemical pest control methods. There are several reasons for this. One of the main advantages of using chemical pest control in agriculture is cost. Protecting large growing areas from pest infestations is an expensive undertaking, and the cost in crop losses due to infestations is enormous as well.
Farmers must spend a significant part of their operating capital each year to control insects, and broadcast spraying of chemicals is still the least expensive method to use. This includes the use of application machinery for the spraying, which only requires a small work force to operate. Both of these aspects do allow farmers to save money each year in their pest control efforts.
Since 1979, the EPA has recorded pesticide usage in the United States. It estimates that more than 300 million pounds of pesticides are applied each year. A look at the 27 most commonly used pesticides reveals some startling facts. Of these 27, 15 are considered carcinogens by the EPA. Others have been associated with genetic disabilities, deaths in children and farm workers, as well as pet deaths.
The Pesticide Action Network (PAN) provides information about pesticide toxicity. Acetochlor(CAS No. 34256-82-1) is another common pesticide found in its database. It is categorized at the highest level of concern because of its toxicity. Other highly toxic pesticides include malathion, metolachlor and mancozeb. All are in this same high category, and all are among the most commonly used pesticides. Clearly, a balance of the risks and the benefits must be part of the decision to apply these toxic chemicals.
Because they are agents of destruction, all pesticides carry some risks. The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) established the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as the governing agency for the regulation of pesticides. Pesticides must be registered with the agency. Application of pesticides is also regulated at the state level. Illinois, for example, requires individuals to pass an exam before being licensed.