ARE ORGANIC PESTICIDES A SAFER CHOICE?
By Chris Williams on June 9, 2017.
If you have to use a pesticide around your home or garden, it’s always better to choose an “organic pesticide,” right? Maybe yes, maybe no. Organic pesticides are those that are derived from plants or earth minerals. Because they are seen as “natural, “ rather than chemically synthesized in a lab, the assumption is that organic pesticides are safer for us and better for the environment. Unfortunately, that’s not always true.
Some natural products can be very harmful indeed, consider the natural poisons arsenic and strychnine. Just like conventional pesticides, organic pesticides have to be used according to direction, in the proper amounts. Just because they are natural doesn’t mean they are nontoxic, Many organics break down or degrade quickly, but that doesn’t mean you can apply as much of the product as you want. The downside to using a pesticide that breaks down quickly is that people might reapply it more often to achieve the same control as a longer-lasting conventional pesticide.
NATURAL PESTICIDES HAVE BEEN IN USE FOR AGES
Today’s organic pesticides are less toxic to humans than most synthetic products but that wasn’t always the case. Some so-called organic pesticides have been around and in use by farmers for many decades, long before anyone had even heard of the term “organic.” Nicotine from the tobacco plant and pyrethrins and pyrethrum derived from the chrysanthemum flower are examples of early organics. Rotenone, also known as derris root is another, with a much lower allowed exposure level to humans than the common organophosphate malathion. Rotenone is also highly toxic to fish and is especially harmful when it gets into waterways.
For gardeners, the interest in organic pesticides has increased as we all look for ways to kill plant pests while protecting honey bees and other pollinators. Typical natural ingredients in today’s organic pesticides include egg solids, lime sulfur, citronella, neem oil, and other plant oils such as peppermint oil and rosemary oil. Diatomaceous earth is a dust made up of the fossilized remains of diatoms, and boric acid powder is produced from the mined mineral boron.
“THE DOSE MAKES THE POISON”
The above heading is a paraphrased quote from Swiss chemist Parcelsus of 500 years ago and means that something that is safe and innocuous in small doses can kill us if we ingest too much. Table salt is a classic example.
Many years ago, a popular syndicated advice column printed a recipe for balls made up of chopped onion, bacon drippings, and boric acid powder to be placed around the kitchen to control ants, cockroaches, and other insect pests. Not very wise advice since boric acid powder (available over the counter at any pharmacy) can be toxic to humans in its concentrated form. It’s used as an eye wash or antiseptic when diluted, but less than two teaspoons of pure boric acid can kill a child.
Natural pesticides are not without other problems. Plant oils can be harmful to the eyes and may provoke allergies. Diatomaceous earth is applied as a fine dust that can cause breathing problems for some people. Natural fungicides contain copper which can kill plants if it accumulates in soil.
A PESTICIDE IS A PESTICIDE IS A PESTICIDE
The bottom line is that no matter whether you choose an organic pesticide product or a more conventional product, it is still a pesticide, which means it is a toxin that is formulated to kill pests and may have some toxicity for people. Always read the label, use correctly, and remember that even natural products may require the use of certain protective equipment such as gloves and eye protection.
Keep all pesticides away from children and pets, organic or not. When in doubt about the best and safest way to control a pest, contact a pest management professional. We have your safety in mind.
Photo Credit : By Jebulon – Own work, CC0, Link