Maryland has a rich history of agriculture, and the industry continues to grow and flourish to this day. With the increased interest in organically grown produce, many farmers are beginning to consider the effects pesticides have on their consumers and on their communities. Below is a breakdown of the two most common types of pesticides, the potential effects they can have on the environment and people’s health, and the recent technologies developed to mitigate these negative effects.
Insects can cause a lot of damage to crops in a very short amount of time, and farmers often turn to insecticides in order to kill these pests. Often distributed through a spray, insecticides typically target insects while they’re still eggs or larvae. This form of pesticide can affect insects either through direct contact or ingestion of a plant that has been sprayed with the insecticide. Both methods are quite effective against insects, but they also have the potential to harm the surrounding ecosystem.
Similar to insecticides, herbicides are pesticides specifically designed to control the spread of unwanted plants to crops. These substances are also commonly referred to as weed-killers. In addition to their use in the agriculture industry, they’re also used frequently by homeowners. In the agriculture industry, herbicides are typically distributed across crops using a water-based spray, which can sometimes affect neighboring fields or find its way into the water supply.
Many traditional pesticides use chemicals that can negatively affect the environment and personal health. Depending on the active chemicals used, those who use pesticides may experience negative health effects. In particular, farmers and other workers who are repeatedly exposed to pesticides may be at a higher risk of developing certain types of cancer.
To reduce the potential health effects that may result from ingestion of food with pesticide residue, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) continually evaluates new and existing pesticides to ensure that they don’t pose extreme threats. Pesticides can also lead to various environmental issues. Because they’re often distributed through sprays, pesticides commonly reach destinations other than their original targets. Wind, soil, or water may carry the particles of the pesticide to other locations. When pesticides are transported via water, the runoff also creates the potential for contamination of drinking water. Additionally, the use of pesticides can reduce biodiversity in an ecosystem, threatening endangered species, destroying habitats, and causing a decline in pollination.
As we’ve seen above, the chemicals used in many pesticides can have harmful effects on the environment and on personal health. In order to combat these risks, some in the agriculture industry are turning to biopesticides, which are created from naturally-occurring materials such as animal or plant byproducts, bacteria, or select minerals. They’re generally less toxic than traditional pesticides, and they typically decompose more quickly than traditional pesticides, causing less damage to the environment.
To reduce the presence of pesticides in food products, some companies employ automated liquid handling equipment. Through a process called solid phase extraction, this technology can identify the presence of pesticides in food samples and analyze multiple samples with increased efficiency and accuracy. The QuEChERS method of solid phase extraction is also commonly used to analyze pesticides in food samples.