What is a Pesticide?
A pesticide is defined by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a substance or mix of substances used to regulate or destroy unwanted pests, including plants, insects, rodents, and fungus . Pesticides can be used anywhere from individual homes, to college campuses, to large-scale agriculture . While we generally cannot physically see them, they are still present in most of our lives . Despite being so common, many pesticides are toxic and can negatively impact plants, animals, and humans. This is especially relevant for basket-weavers. Basket-weavers can be put at risk of exposure if basket materials have been sprayed or otherwise exposed to pesticides. Below, we have provided some information on how pesticides work, how to minimize exposure, and how best to protect yourself from these toxic chemicals.
Where Did Pesticides Come From?
During the time of World War II, a number of new chemicals like DDT, dieldrin, and 2,4-D were introduced that quickly became popular as cheap and effective forms of pest control . At the time, many people did not realize the harmful consequences associated with these substances. It was not until 1962 when author Rachel Carson published her book Silent Spring that people began to truly understand the impact of these chemicals . Carson’s book exposed the harmful impacts of these chemicals, educated the public, and sparked a movement against the use of these toxins. Eventually, the United States, along with many other countries, created guidelines to limit pesticide use and exposure . While many of these chemicals are now banned from use in the United States, pesticides continue to be used across the country .
How Do Pesticides Enter the Environment?
Pesticides can enter the environment in many different ways and stay for varying lengths of time. While pesticides are typically only used on specific sites by trained applicators, they can also have lasting downwind or downstream impacts . For example, pesticides can easily be carried away through the air as droplets, dusts, or soil particles . Additionally, pesticides can contaminate groundwater if there is a heavy rain following application, or the chemicals are spilled . Despite the guidelines put in place to regulate these issues, pesticides can move through the environment easily and contaminate air, water, soil, and more.
How do Pesticides Leave the Environment?
Pesticides can be broken down into less harmful substances. This breakdown can occur through exposure to sunlight and microorganisms . However, the length of time that it takes a pesticide to break down varies. While some might break down in days, others can persist well over a year . This means, these chemicals may exist in our environment at a higher concentration and for longer periods of time than we realize or know.
How Can Pesticides Impact Human Health?
Pesticides can have a large impact on the health of plants, animals, humans, and the environment. Below are some of human health impacts associated with pesticide use.
Pesticides can have both direct and indirect impacts to human health. People who handle, apply, or work closely with pesticides face direct impacts . For example, farm-workers and grounds-keepers who are required to apply pesticides are at risk of direct exposure. People who are exposed to pesticides through contaminated air, dust, water, or food face indirect impacts . For example, buying produce that has been sprayed can put you at risk of indirect exposure. Both direct and indirect exposure can result in lasting health consequences.
Pesticide exposure has been linked to a number of acute and chronic health problems including a variety of different cancers, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, asthma, and neurological damage . Furthermore, pesticide exposure can lead to neurodevelopmental disorders and cognitive deficits in children if the mother is exposed to these substances during pregnancy . Pesticide exposure can impact the health of our current and future generations.
How Can Pesticides Impact Basket-weaving?
In addition to the impact to human health, pesticides can also negatively impact our non-human relatives. Pesticides can also directly or indirectly impact basket materials in the same way they do humans. A plant can be directly impacted if pesticides have been applied to that specific plant or area. Plants can also be indirectly impacted if they are downstream or downwind of where pesticides have been applied. If a gathering area has been exposed to pesticides, gatherers and weavers are put at risk.
How Can You Protect Yourself?
We care about our basket-weavers and want to make sure you are safe and protected from pesticides. Here are some ways you can protect yourself when gathering:
- Gather from trusted areas. You can expose yourself to pesticides without realizing it if you are gathering from an area that has been sprayed. If you can, ensure that your gathering spot is pesticide free before gathering.
- Wash your clothes and shoes. Pesticide particles can cling to these materials. If you believe you may have been exposed, wash the clothes and shoes you were wearing during exposure and avoid bringing them inside your house.
- Avoid putting materials near your eyes, mouth, or nose. Pesticide residue can last for up to a year or more. Unless you are positive the materials were gathered from a pesticide free area, you could unknowingly expose yourself by putting basket materials in your mouth or near your face.
- Educate yourself and others! We want to support access to clean, pesticide-free materials and help protect basket-weavers in our communities from harmful pesticides. Help spread the word in your community about the consequences of pesticide exposure. If you are interested in learning more, check out the rest of our website for some additional resources.
CIBA Policy Statement on Pesticides – Adopted by the CIBA Board of Directors on March 5, 1994:
The California Indian Basketweavers’ Association is opposed to the use of pesticides. We have adopted this position for the following reasons:
The web of life that connects all living things is harmed when poisons are applied to our environment.
The biological diversity of our forests and wetlands is diminished when pesticides are applied to our environment.
Many of these same plants provide us with our food and teas, are used in baskets and for healing, ceremonial and other traditional purposes. When we harvest and use these plants, or take fish or game, we want to know that they are free of poisons. We want the assurance that we are not endangering our health or that of our children and unborn generations.
Pesticides contribute to the poisoning of water tables and watershed and the destruction of fisheries.
The licensing and regulation of pesticides favors pesticide manufacturers and users over public health and environmental well-being. The long term effects of pesticides currently being used are not known. There is mounting evidence that pesticides are contributing to an increase in human cancers and to reproductive disorders throughout the animal kingdom.
We condemn the policy of acceptable risk, which maintains that there is an acceptable level of human suffering and environmental degradation that can be balanced out by the benefits of using pesticides. The costs of pesticide use to people, wildlife, and ecosystems is immense, often personal and tragic, and can never be justified by economic gain.
- Silent Spring – Rachel Carson
- Circle of Poison: Pesticides and People in a Hungry World – David Weir and Mark Shapiro
- Banned: A History of Pesticides and the Science of Toxicology – Frederick Rowe Davis
- Relevant Organizations with Information on Pesticides
- La Via Campesina: An international movement of peasant farmers who advocate for food sovereignty, climate and environmental justice, land and water rights, and more. https://viacampesina.org/en/
- Earthjustice: A nonprofit environmental law organization that has represented hundreds of different clients in environmental-related cases. https://earthjustice.org/advocacy-campaigns/pesticides
- The Natural Resources Defense Council: An organization that partners with scientists, lawyers, businesses, elected officials, and more in an effort to preserve clean air, water, and land. https://www.nrdc.org/issues/ban-dangerous-pesticides
- Sierra Club: A grassroots organization dedicated to preserving the Earth’s resources. https://www.sierraclub.org/toxics/pesticides
- Toxics Action Center: This group partners with communities to assist with clean-up and prevention of toxic chemicals in the environment. https://toxicsaction.org/issues/pesticides/