Consumers have diverse views and preferences about pesticide use. The public is becoming increasingly concerned about the impact of pesticides on their health and the local ecosystem. The public generally believes that insects, diseases, and other pests need to be controlled but also believes that there are effective alternatives to pesticides. This diversity has important implications for public policy, marketing, and risk communication. While the debate continues about whether pesticide residue problems are real or perceived, there are real problems all should be directing their efforts toward solving.
Pesticides are not a homogeneous group of chemicals. There are many different chemicals with many different characteristics, potential health risks and potential environmental effects. Exposure to pesticides can cause acute or chronic effects on health. Acute (or short-term) effects generally occur immediately after heavy exposure to pesticides, and are well documented.
A chronic effect develops over a long period of time and may last for several years after initial exposure. The effect may be related to long-term or repeated exposure to a pesticide at a low dosage, or to exposure to a high dosage for a short time. Chronic health effects typically include cancer, interference with the development of the fetus and child, and disruption of the reproductive, endocrine, immune and/or central nervous systems (neurotoxic effects).
Many studies published in prestigious, peer-reviewed medical and epidemiological journals and reports point to strong associations between chemical pesticides and serious health consequences—including endocrine disruption and fertility problems, birth defects, brain tumors and brain cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, childhood leukemia, cancer clusters in communities, gastric or stomach cancer, learning disabilities, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, canine malignant lymphoma, and various acute effects.
There is controversy surrounding the identification of many chronic effects of pesticide exposure, because of inconsistencies in the research, data gaps, and contradictions among existing studies. It is difficult, therefore, to demonstrate a conclusive link between pesticides and certain illnesses.
Despite the confounding factors in these studies, it is clear that the potential for serious impact on human health is cause for concern. While the evidence may be limited, the hypotheses developed by the scientific community are of sufficient concern that they warrant further investigation.