Better Living Through Chemistry

by Christine Maccabee 

I am finding it difficult to decide what to write about during this magical time of year, when the crocuses are beginning to bloom and when the grays and browns of trees and fields will again become green. This is the time of year we all wait for with eagerness and joy.

At the same time, no sooner does the first bug appear and dandelions begin popping out on our lawns that a sort of warfare begins against the natural world. Bug zappers, which are helping diminish insects we deem as pests, have actually contributed to the depletion of vital food sources (bugs) for birds such as swallows and other birds, dependent on insects for food and survival. Frogs, toads, and dragonflies—even fish—need insects to survive.

Dandelions and clovers are also critical early-season food for our bees, so why poison them? Weed them out if you must, but don’t use chemicals. You may ask “why not?”

Actually, multiple herbicides and pesticides that consumers use regularly are killing both “bad” and “good” insects, as well as threatening the health of soil micro-organisms and human beings. Awareness of such problems in these difficult, even perilous, times is important. Aware consumers can be a powerful source for healthy change and a healthy planet.

Surely everyone has heard of the decline in honey bee and bumble bee populations, globally, and we wonder and worry as to why. Asking “why” is one of the first questions as we come into the world and start to observe the world around us, one of many questions we must continue asking into adulthood in order to learn and to come up with better solutions to our many on-going problems.

You may have heard of the detrimental effects of herbicides and pesticides to insect, bird, and human populations. According to the recent book White Wash by Carey Gillam, agrochemical industries such as Dow, DuPont, Syngenta, and others, have taken over the west side of the Hawaiian island Kauai, popularly called the “Garden Isle.”  However, now that these agro-chemistry corporations have bought thousands of acres to experiment with their chemicals, there is a toxic soup poisoning this piece of paradise— air, water, and human. Serious health problems, such as cancer, are occurring in communities that live near what residents are now calling the “poison valley,” and alarm has spread as more and more people are sickened by such secret testings. I became horrified when I read the details of this misled corporate effort to get rid of unwanted insects and plants.

Similar experiments are carried on by Monsanto out west, the most popular product being Roundup, which contains glyphosate. It was embraced by everyone as the wonder herbicide until unintended impacts on the environment and human health were discovered, and now Roundup Ready crops are all the rage, which is a whole ‘nother can of worms….no space to write about that here, nor the heart.

Worldwide, chemicals in commonly used herbicides and pesticides are silently doing more harm than people know. Sadly, ever since DDT and Agent Orange were banned from use in the 1970s, other similarly potent chemicals with different names have taken their place. Chloropyrifos, a neurotoxin, which along with many other problems are linked to Parkinson’s Disease and other neurological disorders. Enlist Duo and Glyphosate are highly toxic herbicides used on corn cotton and soybeans in thirty-four states. They are potent weed killers, wreaking havoc on all insects by killing vital host plants such as milkweed (though they also poison insects and birds, too). As for the bees, Neonics confuse their ability to navigate back to the hives. Once they do make it back, they contaminate the entire hive, creating problems with grooming themselves that, in turn, makes them more vulnerable to mites and disease. Also, because neonics disrupt bees’ gut bacteria, thus weakening their immune systems, the entire hive dies.

Since reading Rachael Carson’s intelligent research and book called Silent Spring (1962), I have not used any chemicals on my property. Instead, there seems to be a wonderfully balanced ecosystem here on my 11+ acres, with a wide diversity of insects, birds, and plants. However, I cannot control what others are doing, and so I am also affected—as are we all—by agrochemical farming. Traces of Glyphosate are found in far too many foods commonly sold at local stores, so I buy organic as much as possible.

 Better living through chemistry? Perhaps we should all continue   asking the question “why?”.

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