In today’s society of increasingly health-conscious consumers, pesticides are placed under a great deal of scrutiny, and in many ways rightfully so. However, often times, today’s vastly improved pesticides get an unfairly, bad reputation. When used improperly, pesticides can be very dangerous, which is the case with pretty much any type of chemical. Fortunately, when used in moderation and following the appropriate instructions, many of today’s pesticides really aren’t so bad. While it may be easy to swear by the lyrics to Counting Crow’s Big Yellow Taxi, “farmer, farmer put away the DDT, I don’t care about spots on my apples leave me the birds and the bees, please,” those sentiments are a bit exaggerative and outdated.
Various forms of pesticides have been used for thousands of years. Some of the common chemicals used centuries ago included mercury, lead and sulfur. In the first half of the 20th century, arsenic-based pesticides were common. During WW II, a man named Paul Muller created a high efficiency version of DDT that was very successful in preventing malaria and typhus, particularly among military troops. After the war, DDT, which is an organochlorine insecticide, started being used for agricultural purposes. As more information became known about the potential effects of DDT on wildlife, the public began to greatly question the use of this product. Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring resulted in major, public outcry against DDT. In 1972 the United States banned the use of DDT and the Stockholm Convention banned the use of DDT for agricultural purposes worldwide.
Today’s pesticides face much greater scrutiny and there is increased emphasis on using naturally occurring insecticides. Many plants naturally produce pesticides, and products of this type are considered to be “naturally derived” as opposed to the traditional synthetic pesticides. A few of the more commonly used organic pesticides are pyrethrin, nicotine and azadirachtin. Pyrethrin is becoming an increasingly popular pesticide used today. This organic compound is produced by Chrysanthemums and has the ability to affect the nervous system of all types of insects making it a very versatile, organic compound. This compound is biodegradable and can be applied in smaller amounts to be simply a repellent instead of actually killing insects.
Pesticides have come a long way in the last fifty years and improvements continue to be made. Anytime you decide to use pesticides, it’s important to do your research and consider consulting a professional. Even more important is to follow directions and use these products in moderation as designed.