by Mark Edwards

Pesticides are substances that attract and destroy pests. Pesticide include a diverse variety of poisons including herbicides, insecticides, nematocides, rodenticides, antimicrobials and fungicides. According to the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, 9 of the 12 most dangerous and persistent organic chemicals are organochlorine pesticides. The CDC estimates over 17,000 pesticide products are marketed in the U.S.

The EPA released the Annual use of Pesticides in the U.S. Report in 2011. American farmers apply 1.1 billion pounds of toxic chemicals into the environment and our food supply each year. Farmers apply over 90 million pounds of organophosphates, toxic neurotoxins that silently build up in the bodies of Americans. These and other pesticides can create catastrophic damage during fetal and infant life.

The CDC’s Fourth National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals provides an ongoing assessment of the exposure of the U.S. population to environmental chemicals by the use of biomonitoring. The Report presents a long list of chemicals that are found in our food supply. The Report is cumulative and provides new data for years 2003-2004. Data for 75 new environmental chemicals are included for the survey period 2003-2004. The Report website offers more recent updates.

Farm workers exposed to pesticides

Farm workers exposed to pesticides

About 70% of the insecticides applied in the U.S. are organophosphorus, (OP) pesticides. OP pesticides work by disrupting the nervous system of insects, a mechanism that also affects the human nervous system when people are exposed. The decision to use modern OPs was driven by the knowledge that the pesticide breaks down quickly and loses its toxicity. New research challenges this logic because it shows pesticide residues have a severe adverse affect on the brains of unborn humans, contributing to autism and development disorders­.

Plants may absorb less than 0.1% of each applied pesticide. The 99.9% residual enters the local ecosystem where it degrades the brains, neurons and bodies of birds, amphibians, fish farm animals, farm families and their neighbors. Pesticide residuals also remain on the crops after harvest.

Many farmers are using more pesticides because pesticide resistance is increasing. In the 1940s, U.S. farmers lost seven percent of their crops to pests. Since the 1980s, loss has increased to 13 percent, even though more pesticides are being used. Between 500 and 1,000 insects and weed species have developed pesticide resistance since 1945. Farmers compensate for pesticide resistance by applying more poison to kill the target pests.

Farm workers in U.S. suffer over 300,000 pesticide-related illnesses. Many developmental disabilities for infants and children go unreported. Many farm workers are illegal immigrants who fear reporting incidents. Immigrants often have no ability to seek medical care. Therefore, the number of farm workers suffering from pesticide exposure may be over half a million people.

Over 10,400 people in the U.S. die each year from cancer related to pesticides. A larger number of Americans die annually from pesticide assisted suicide.

Studies on pesticide exposure’s effect on farm workers are scarce. Farm workers and their children suffer symptoms like vomiting, muscle cramps, and skin rashes, as well as long term problems like leukemia, brain cancer, birth defects, nerve damage, and hormonal imbalances.

A recent report from Farmworker Justice details how crews that are regularly exposed to crop dusters that spread heavy clouds of pesticides for hours every day, have a higher incidence of cancer, neurological and reproductive disorders.

Since the mid-1990s, around 300,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide – a rate of about one every 30 minutes. Suicide has become the second leading cause of death among young adults in India. A Lancet study revealed suicide rates in rural areas to be double those of urban areas. The most common method of suicide was found to be deliberately ingesting pesticide. Studies in India call the problem GM suicides because the GMO seeds from Monsanto put farmers at high economic risk.

Farmer suicides may stem from increased farmer debt on the promise that GMO seed will be a bonanza. Farmers pay higher prices for the GM seed as well as the substantial additional required fertilizer, water, cultivation and pesticides. Farmers lose everything when their harvest fails and they have no crop insurance. Crop failure happens more often as aquifers fail and fertilizer, petrol or irrigation water is not available or not affordable. Additional crops fail when monsoon rains fail with climate chaos. High-profile campaigners such as Britain’s Prince Charles and India’s Vandana Shiva have taken up the cause of India’s farmers and blame the spate of suicides on Monsanto. Farmer suicides have spawned blockbuster films such as “Summer 2007.” The rural-affairs editor of The Hindu, a newspaper, won an international press award for his writing on the subject. The farmers’ deaths played a part in the recommendation by a panel of India’s Supreme Court to impose a 10-year moratorium on field trials of GMO crops in India.

Farmer suicide in India

Farmer suicide in India

In the U.S., the herbicide glyphosate has more than doubled in use, from 85-90 million pounds in 2001 to 180-185 million pounds in 2007. The 2x increase occurred despite Monsanto’s claim that their GMO corn and soybean seed required less, not more herbicide. Glyphosate is the active ingredient of Monsanto’s RoundUp.

OPs can be absorbed by all routes, including inhalation, ingestion, and dermal absorption. The toxicological effects of OPs are almost entirely due to the inhibition of acetylcholinesterase in the nervous system, resulting in respiratory, myocardial and neuromuscular transmission impairment. The main target organs include the nervous system, respiratory tract and cardiovascular system. OPs cause neurons to either misfire or fire too quickly, disrupting signals to the brain. The brain responds by failing to return signals to contract muscles, which shuts down breathing and heart muscles. Early symptoms are fatigue followed by muscle pain and then death.

A team of researchers led by U.C. Davis professor and a U.N. consultant Janie F. Shelton, have presented a series of studies showing how pregnant mothers exposed to OPs have significantly higher likelihood of having infants with autism spectrum disorders, (ASD). The team combined data from the Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and the Environment, (CHARGE) study with data from the California Pesticide Use Report.

Children with autism spectral disorders were found to have had a 60% greater chance of having had organophosphates sprayed near their mothers’ homes while they were still in the womb. Children with development disorders were nearly 150% more likely to have had carbamate pesticides applied near the home during their mothers’ pregnancy. Both of the associations grew stronger as the pesticide applications encroached more closely upon their mothers’ homes.

Autistic children

Autistic children

A 2007 USGS study shows that many metabolites (breakdown products) of organophosphates are more toxic than the primary chemicals themselves – making them acutely lethal to sensitive species like amphibians and humans. Major metabolites of chlorpyrifos and Malathion were 100 times more toxic than their parent compounds to frogs in California’s Central Valley, where nearly 25% of the nation’s organophosphate use is concentrated.

People are commonly exposed to OP pesticides through eating fresh and processed vegetables, contacting pesticide-contaminated surfaces, breathing air near pesticide applications (both indoors and outdoors), and drinking pesticide-contaminated water. The multiple uses and ubiquitous nature of these chemicals result in routine exposures to many different OP pesticides.

Children are at extremely high exposure risk because they crawl across floors where OPs settle and touch and lick items that are likely to contain pesticide residuals. Children have higher metabolic rates than adults, and their small bodies have less ability to activate, detoxify, and excrete toxic pesticides than adults. Children consume more food per unit weight than adults, which means they can ingest more pesticides. Pesticide exposure is amplified for children because their brains are more than five times larger in proportion to their body weight than adult brains. Developing brains need cholinesterase for normal development.

Developing youngsters are the most susceptible to OPs. The CDC Pesticide Illness and Injury Surveillance System reports that children aged 0-4 years have the highest pesticide-related hospitalization rate of all age groups at 2.7 hospitalizations per 100,000. Children can be exposed to OPs through the air, food, dust and soil, and even pets. Children of farmworkers and children in agricultural areas are among the most exposed to OPs, although urban children are also at risk.

Pesticides are ubiquitous in modern industrial agriculture. Pesticides put not only producers and consumers at severe health risk but also threaten rural communities. Algae offer two solutions to the pesticide residues that poisoning our children.

  1. Algae-based foods that are grown without pesticides and are pesticide free.
  2. Algae biofertilizers that induce plants to produce natural biopesticides.

Algae-based foods can be produced without pesticides and offer a novel solution for eliminating pesticide residue in food.

Various algae species offer all the essential macro and micronutrients for human health and vitality. Freedom Foods deliver superior nutrition and taste without pollution or waste. These foods enable healthier choices for consumers, farmers, animals and the environment. Freedom Foods are not only free of pesticides but also free of GMO material, gluten, meat products and allergens.

Every ton of algae-based foods frees the ecosystem of substantial pesticide residual.

Algae foods from and Algae Industry Magazine

Algae foods from and Algae Industry Magazine

We have conducted algae-based biofertilizers field trials with Dell Monte. We cultured terrestrial algae found in the field where the crops were grown near Yuma, Arizona. We returned the algae concentrations of over 10,000x to the crops through the irrigation drip system. This research is summarized in SmartCultures, Sustainable, MicroAlgae Regenerative Technologies.

The algae biofertilizer improved produce yields by over 30%, increased germination rates and speed to maturity by 10 to 30% and improved soil porosity by 500%.

Algae induced biopesticides were an unexpected finding in these field trials. The algae biofertilizer clearly improved plant health and vitality because every physical crop metric was significantly better compared with the control fields. The farmer was able to reduce fertilizer application because the algae delivered the essential nutrients that were immediately bioavailable to the plants. Stronger plants were less stressed by pests and were able to emit their own biopesticide.

These field trials reduced herbicides, fungicides and pesticides by 30 to 80%. Del Monte uses sophisticated third party laboratory analysis to determine the need various levels of application for fertilizer and for pesticides in different parts of the field. Total pesticide applications were reduced by 50%.

A neighboring field had a white fly infestation that so degraded the field that the farmer had to abandon the crop. Whiteflies invaded the 200-acre field infused with algae biofertilizer but then left. The plants apparently created a natural biopesticide that was sufficiently off-putting to discourage whiteflies.

The social and environmental cost of pesticide applications in the U.S. may exceed $15 billion a year. Additional research will uncover mechanisms and pathways to make pesticides less dangerous to non-target pests. Social policies are already constraining the use of pesticides in the US and Europe. Algae offer more solutions to the substantial threats caused by pesticides then any other organism.

Algae food, feeds and biofertilizers will revolutionize our food supply, creating a clean food revolution with foods that deliver superior nutrition and taste without pesticide residual on the food or pesticide pollution in the environment. Algae bioremediation of polluted wastewater will reduce pesticide exposure in rural communities. Algae compounds can provide relief from several diseases caused by pesticide exposure. New algae medicines hold promise for treatment diseases linked to pesticide exposure including ADHD, diabetes, immune system maladies, brain function, metabolism, heart disease and many types of cancer.

It is time the USDA, EPA, FDA, and NIH organize a strategic team to address effective and sustainable solutions to the social and environmental impacts of pesticides.

Organizations Promoting Bans, Restrictions and Alternatives to Pesticides:

  • Pesticide Action Network North America
  • PAN Pesticide Database
  • Californians for Pesticide Reform
  • Natural Resources Defense Council
  • Organic Farming Research Foundation
  • ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center 1-888-426-4435 ($65.00 credit card fee)
  • Pet Poison Helpline 1-800-213-6680 ($39.00 credit card fee)

Organizations Documenting Pesticide Food Residues:

  • Consumers Union
  • Environmental Working Group
  • EPA on OP Food Tolerances

If you have ideas on how algae solutions make our world better, please contact Mark Edwards, Professor Emeritus, Arizona State University, at: