Friday, August 31, 2012

Think Carefully Before you Spray

     Agrochemicals can be wonderful and truly helpful both to the small householder and the large farmer.  Herbicides can reduce or eliminate the need for weeding.  Insecticides can help to prevent plant or crop loss due to insect infestation.  Fungicides can reduce or eliminate issues with fungi both on your plants and in the soil.  In each case, agrochemicals are acting to assist people in their needs.
     Care must be taken; however, to ensure that they are used properly and that they are not used excessively.  Obviously a chemical whose function is to kill insects will also have an effect on the human system with human exposure.  Less obvious but still an issue is that a vast majority of chemicals produced to kill weeds will also have an effect on the human body.  Even the chemicals found in many fungicides can adversely effect people.  That is why many of these chemicals carry warning labels that proclaim their potential to cause harm.  Some are even restricted to use only by people who are properly trained and hold a license.
     Remember that you can be exposed to agrochemicals by three different manners.  First, you can breath a chemical in when you or someone in close proximity to you sends it out as a spray or fog.  To use a chemical in this way it is reduced to a fine particle that can float, at least for a time, through the air.  As such, it is readily taken in when you breath in.  Second, you could absorb the chemical through your skin.  This can happen when a spray lands on your skin or when the chemical in either a liquid or a powdered form lands on the pores of your skin.  Absorption will continue as long as the chemical stays on your skin.  This can be a long time if you do not realize that you have had any exposure and do not act to wash it off.  A good example of an accidental exposure would be if you were to brush against a plant that has been treated with a chemical dust.  You might see the dust as a powder, but if the dusting is light enough you might not be able to detect it.  You could potentially go hours with that dust on your skin before it gets washed off.  Finally a chemical can be ingested.  This can happen when it is applied to something that you might eat and than that food is not properly washed or is harvested prior to the prescribed waiting period after the application.
     Improper use or excessive use of chemicals can adversely affect wildlife as well.  They can easily be exposed in the same way that humans can.  More of a concern, is that they can also be unwittingly exposed through the movement of the chemical from where it was applied to elsewhere in an ecosystem.  Rain and the run-off that happens as a result of rain can have an amazing impact on where a chemical can wind up - in extreme cases taking chemicals hundreds of miles from where they were first applied.
     When I first moved into my home, the yard and woods were hopping with toads.  I literally could not walk across my grass without encountering them and I needed to stop often when mowing to move them out of the way of the lawn mower.  My neighbors across the street live dramatically up hill from me.  They began to subscribe to a chemical lawn service.  They chose to get the full treatment; so at least once a month a spray truck came and applied either fertilizer, insecticide, fungicide or herbicide.  Their lawn looked beautiful.  There was not one single brown patch, eaten area or weed.  Within a year, you could not have found a toad on my property if you had searched non-stop for twenty four hours.  Why?  Because the chemicals that they were using were traveling down hill with each rain and entering my property.  Ironically, where the storm water entered my site I had no weeds, no fungal issues and saw few bugs.  Sadly, some of the things that I had planted and tended died due to herbicide exposure.
     That chemical that you use today could easily be washed downhill tomorrow in a storm.  From there it could soak into the ground and become a part of the groundwater for the area downstream of the application site.  It could also keep traveling and end up in a stream and from there into a creek.  It could go on into a river and even be carried in a diluted form all the way out to the ocean. 
     I am not proclaiming that we should do away with agrochemicals.  What we need to do is to use them wisely, in moderation and with thought as to where they might ultimately end up.

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