by: Julie Wilson staff writer
Normally, the state averages somewhere between 75 and 80 complaints regarding the misuse of pesticides per calendar year. However, 115 complaints have been reported over the last month alone, said Judy Grundler, division director for plant industries with the Missouri Department of Agriculture.
This revelation comes on the heels of a recent report revealing that nearly 60 percent of pesticide sprayers in Missouri do not follow the label’s instructions for application. Only 43 percent of pesticide users are reading the label each time before spraying, according to a survey of 2,200 respondents carried out by researchers.
Irresponsible pesticide use damaging the environment including crucial food crops
“Follow labels to reduce mistakes and waste, increase effectiveness and profits, and sustain a healthy environment,” said Mandy Bish, a researcher with the University of Missouri. But that clearly isn’t happening, which is why important crops, as well as public health are at risk.
“Complaints are coming from damage to soybeans, primarily,” said Grundler, adding that peaches, peanuts, purple hull peas, watermelons, tomatoes and alfalfa are also being harmed.
Grundler presented her findings to the House Appropriations Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural resources; however, some details were left out due to the fact that the investigation is still ongoing.
Offenders may soon face steep fines
The misuse of pesticides in Missouri has not fallen on deaf ears. Committee member, state Rep. Don Rone, R-Portageville, appears to understand the severity of the situation, promising to file new legislation that would crack down on offenders.
The proposed changes would significantly increase fines for violators. Applicators caught misusing pesticides would be fined $10,000 per field, versus the current fine which is set at $1,000 per field.
“If we don’t control this type of behavior, then we’re going to lose that chemistry sooner (rather) than later,” said Rone, adding, “and pretty soon we’ll have no chemistry that’ll work in a field, and then we’ll really have some problems.”
Pesticides continue to cause problems even when used “correctly,” due to the fact that they often end up in our food, water and soil, reducing important microbes. Pesticide drift poses serious health risks to humans, as well as contaminating nearby crops (including organic produce).
The dangers of pesticide drift
The survey found that some Missouri pesticide applicators check the wind speed less than 50 percent of the time, which explains the damage to other crops such as watermelon and peaches, and raises serious concerns about the effect it’s having on people.
Research shows that gases, droplets and dust particles created by pesticide drift can be carried miles away from the site where the chemicals were originally applied, which can cause two types of poisoning in humans: acute and chronic.
Acute poisoning typically results in immediate symptoms including skin and eye irritation, trouble breathing, vomiting, headaches, tremors, numbness and more. This recently happened to a group of workers detasseling corn in Illinois, prompting emergency crews to initiate decontamination procedures.
Chronic poisoning, usually occurring at low levels over a long period of time, can cause leukemia, lymphomas, autism, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, among other illnesses.
Young children and developing fetuses are the most vulnerable to pesticide exposure, highlighting the great responsibility farmers carry when applying chemicals. It would be better to quit them altogether in exchange for safer, more efficient alternatives.