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Protecting Our Food, Farms & Environment
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Pacific Northwest
Hawai'i CFS

Impacts of Pesticide Use

Center for Food Safety

The prevalence of pesticide (biocide) use in our agricultural system has far-reaching effects which echo throughout the ecosystem. Those who work tirelessly to put food on our tables are exposed to these toxic chemicals daily. Human exposure to toxic biocides can occur through the skin, nose, and mouth. Exposure to biocides has been shown to cause negative health effects including cancer, reproduction impacts, neurological and developmental damage, skin irritation and burns, gastrointestinal distress, respiratory damage, endocrine disruption, and death. Long-term and occupational exposure to biocides greatly increases the risk of developing a fatal illness. 

Biocides have an extremely toxic environmental footprint, and new independent scientific research is regularly published detailing the harms associated with their use. Loss of soil fertility and decline in populations of beneficial soil microorganisms is just one unintended side effect associated with continual and indiscriminate biocide application. Soil microorganisms are critical in performing essential functions like cycling of nutrients, breakdown of organic matter, and maintaining soil fertility. Excessive use of biocides is also a key contributor to the extinction of many plant and animal species, which are harmed as these chemicals spread throughout our environment. Read more about how pesticides impact plant and animal species on our Extinction Crisis page.  

When applied, biocides can be dispersed throughout the environment by moving through the air, surface and groundwater, or by attaching themselves to soil particles and living organisms. Once applied and present in the environment, environmental processes and reactions with water, bacteria, and sunlight can also break down and transform biocides into other chemicals which are often more harmful than the parent product. The parent biocide, and chemicals produced by its degradation, can persist and travel in the environment for a long time, polluting our soils, air, and water for years after their application, further escalating concerns for human, plant, and animal health.