Pesticides and chemical fertilizers can contaminate surface and ground water. This diminishes the quality of our drinking water, the quality of aquatic habitat and the health of aquatic life forms. Many fish and other aquatic species are extremely sensitive to pesticides and fertilizers.
Some pesticides used on urban lawns have the potential to disrupt human hormone and endocrine systems. This disruption has been linked to decreased immune system function, alterations to the brain and reproductive system, and behavioural changes such as attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder. Pesticides have also been linked to different types of cancer, from breast cancer to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and soft tissue sarcomas.
Children at risk
Due to their smaller size and their underdeveloped immune system, children are the most vulnerable to health hazards related to exposure to pesticides. Children are also vulnerable due to their behaviour (putting contaminated grass, soil, and toys in their mouth, crawling on the lawns). A National Cancer Institute survey in the US indicates that children are six times more likely to get childhood leukemia when pesticides are used in the home and garden.
Animal health can be affected by pesticide exposure through air, water, soil or via the food chain. There is increasing evidence of cancers, enlarged thyroids, deformed bills, and feminization of male animals (also know as “endocrine disruption”) associated with pesticide use. Pesticide use can also diminish food sources and disturb habitats. In New Brunswick, Fenitrothion is believed to have caused a high mortality rate in the songbird population.
Pesticides reduce the activity level of organisms that naturally help control lawn pests and weeds. For example, the earthworm improves air and water penetration, decomposes thatch, deposits nutrient-rich castings and helps to neutralize soil. Eradication of these organisms causes an imbalance in the soil system which may cause infertility, secondary pest outbreaks, resurgence of pests and soil sterilization.
Methyl bromide, a widely used fumigant, accounts for between 5% and 10% of the annual depletion of the ozone layer. It breaks down ozone about 40 times as quickly as the now-notorious CFCs.
Some progress made in New Brunswick
In 2009, the Province of New Brunswick banned approximately 200 cosmetic pesticide products, including the harmful chemical 2-4D. However, the Province chose not to implement a complete province-wide
ban on cosmetic pesticides despite repeated calls from citizens, environmental groups and health associations to do so. While the ban of certain chemicals is a step in the right direction, much more work needs to be done.
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