Pesticide Free Zone? Maybe Not!

by Stephanie Suesan Smith on October 11, 2010

Many people have worked very hard to eliminate synthetic chemicals from their homes.  They use organic cleaners, eat organic food, and wear clothes made from natural fibers that have been raised organically.  They mistakenly believe this means they have a pesticide free home.  It does not.

Pesticides, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), kill something.  That means sanitizers, fungicides, germ killers of every stripe, as well as the more familiar insecticides, are all pesticides.  If it has an EPA registration number, it is a pesticide.  Not all pesticides are bad.  We would not have the food we have and the standard of living, or the lifespan, we enjoy without them.

For example, aflatoxin is a fungus that infects corn grown during drought conditions.  It causes hallucinations and sometimes death in mammals.  Some scientists believe it responsible for the Salem Witch Trials, or at least a part of them.  Now all corn is tested for aflatoxin and destroyed if too much is present.

Hand sanitizers and counter cleaners, even organic ones, contain compounds that kill germs.  This helps keep our homes safe.  However, anything that will kill germs is a germicide, a type of pesticide.  These products should be handled accordingly.

I am not making the argument that pesticides should be used indiscriminately.  They should be used with caution and care.  DDT and Agent Orange are testament to that.  At the same time, knee jerk reactions against a substance without understanding what the label it carries means are also unwarranted.  Thinking through the risks and benefits is the most reasonable course of action.  The outcome may vary for different individuals in different situations.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Patricia October 12, 2010 at 10:37 am

Very thought provoking article Stephanie. I like how you research your topics so thoroughly. Here in Australia a lot of people are going back to using natural products for cleaning and it is ironic really cos my Mum has always done that and now the younger generation are carrying it on.
Patricia Perth Australia
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Stephanie Suesan Smith October 13, 2010 at 6:31 am

People are finding that synthetic products can cause more problems than they solve. I am not ready to give up antibiotics and modern conveniences, but if two products are comparable and one is organic, I will pick that one.


Gail Gardner from Support Small Businesses October 13, 2010 at 12:32 am

Hi Stephanie,

I have been told that they do not always destroy corn that has heavy aflatoxin loads – they just mix it with clean corn to get the level below whatever the criterion is. Have you heard otherwise?
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Stephanie Suesan Smith October 13, 2010 at 6:29 am

Legally, they are supposed to destroy it. I would not be surprised to find there are those who mix it with clean corn to beat the system, though.


Stephanie Suesan Smith October 13, 2010 at 6:34 am

Ever substance has both good and bad qualities. It is up to each of us to weigh the pros and cons for ourselves and decide if a substance is worth using. In some cases, pesticides are necessary to keep insects from eating crops and causing famine, to keep an operating room sterile, and to keep a dog from being eaten by fleas. In others, they can be optional. Each person needs to do their research and make an informed choice.


Organic October 26, 2010 at 9:48 pm

I had no idea that the definition of a pesticide was so broad. You’re very right about not having a knee jerk reaction against all pesticides in favor of the organic like a lot of people do. In San Diego, I try and use different vinegar products as much as possible to kill weeds because it can be very effective and still fairly ecofriendly. It was sad to me that warnings were issued after each rain not to swim in the beaches because of contamination from the storm drains. So I tried doing my part as much as I could. But sometimes you just need Roundup.
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Stephanie Suesan Smith October 27, 2010 at 7:11 am

Most people have no idea. Organic things like neem oil are still pesticides. The organic versus pesticide is a false dichotomy. It should be organic versus synthetic because many organic substances are used as pesticides. Rotenone, for example, is one of the most poisonous substances available. It is organic, although it is banned from use on organic farms due to its’ toxicity.


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