• picture
  • picture
  • picture
  • picture
Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Second Thoughts on Pesticide Spraying

Air Date: Week of

Westchester county and some towns in Connecticut have begun large-scale spraying of the pesticide malathion to combat the spread of the mosquito-borne encephalitis which hit New York City earlier this month. Commentator Mark L. Wilson thinks there’s a better way.


CURWOOD: The mosquito-borne encephalitis that hit New York City earlier this month has spread north to Westchester County and Connecticut. Officials there are responding to the outbreak the same way New York did, by large- scale spraying of the pesticide Malathion to kill the disease-carrying insects. Commentator Mark L. Winston says there must be a better approach.

WINSTON: I can understand why New York responded to its encephalitis outbreak by mass spraying of the pesticide malathion. It's too late to do anything else. But we can't continue to cover vast areas with a white mist every time an outbreak occurs. Worldwide, we use billions of pounds of pesticides each year to kill agricultural, urban, and forest pests. In the United States alone, four pounds of toxic chemicals are applied for every man, woman, and child.

The effects of this strong-arm approach can be severe. Chronic pesticide exposure has been linked to immune dysfunction and various forms of cancer and birth defects. And each year, pesticides kill tens of millions of birds and fish, while clean-up costs run into the billions of dollars.

But there is another overwhelming reason to begin reducing our dependence on chemical pesticides. They aren't working. Pests quickly develop resistance, and significant increases in crop loss and human health problems are directly linked to our inability to deal with pests chemically. We need a new paradigm for pest control, based on reducing pest populations rather than eradicating them. On co-existence, rather than domination. But first we need to change our attitudes about pests.

Most of us are concerned about pesticides in our food, air, and water. Yet we are quick to grab a can of insecticide to kill a harmless bug in our kitchen, or use herbicide to nuke a few dandelions in the yard. About half of pesticide use in the United States is unnecessary, because it is directed at cosmetic problems, such as weeds, or the superficial appearance of fruits and vegetables.

We also need alternatives that are specific to individual pest species and not toxic to our environment. The solutions are available from our scientific community, such as parasites or diseases that affect only pests, or synthetic versions of the odors insects use to find each other to mate and which can be used to confuse insects and disrupt their mating.
However, most of these alternatives have failed to reach the marketplace for a host of regulatory, economic, and political reasons. It's time to re-evaluate our approach to pest management and set a reachable goal of decreasing chemical pesticide use by 50 percent over the next ten years. In the end, long-term planning to reduce pesticide use will serve us better than the current philosophy of panic and spray.

CURWOOD: Mark L. Winston is a professor of biological sciences at Simon Frazier University in Burnabee, British Columbia, and the author of Nature Wars: People Versus Pests.



Living on Earth wants to hear from you!

Living on Earth
62 Calef Highway, Suite 212
Lee, NH 03861
Telephone: 617-287-4121
E-mail: comments@loe.org

Newsletter [Click here]

Donate to Living on Earth!
Living on Earth is an independent media program and relies entirely on contributions from listeners and institutions supporting public service. Please donate now to preserve an independent environmental voice.

Living on Earth offers a weekly delivery of the show's rundown to your mailbox. Sign up for our newsletter today!

Sailors For The Sea: Be the change you want to sea.

Creating positive outcomes for future generations.

Innovating to make the world a better, more sustainable place to live. Listen to the race to 9 billion

The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment: Committed to protecting and improving the health of the global environment.

Contribute to Living on Earth and receive, as our gift to you, an archival print of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary wildlife photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.

Buy a signed copy of Mark Seth Lender's book Smeagull the Seagull & support Living on Earth