Herbicides are an essential part of farming and agriculture, ensuring that crop yields are high and there is little wastage. All of this enables consumers to get the food they want to eat at relatively affordable prices. However, numerous herbicides have been developed over the years to meet the growing demand for food. This has meant that some came to the market when perhaps they shouldn’t have. This causes all manner of issues ranging from environmental pollution to human fatalities. Moreover, while some have been banned, others remain in use for various reasons. This post will cover a few herbicides that should be prohibited and the reasons why.
Paraquat is a highly toxic herbicide that is used to kill weeds. It is a contact poison that kills plants by inhibiting photosynthesis. Paraquat was first marketed in the 1960s and has been heavily used in agriculture ever since, as it has the ability to destroy large expanses of crops relatively inexpensively. However, its harmful effects have also meant that it has been banned from non-commercial use on a Federal level. Nevertheless, there are still some states that currently use paraquat and allow its use for commercial agriculture. This poses a problem, especially for the farmers using the chemical. Although paraquat doesn’t tend to affect the end consumer, when touched, inhaled, or ingested, it can lead to a variety of nasty health concerns, including:
- Heart, liver, and kidney failure
- Pulmonary edema
- Respiratory failure
All of these issues are potentially fatal. Moreover, it has been estimated that there have been around 50 deaths each year since 1980, all of which could have been prevented had there been a total ban on its use. Its continued use is cause for concern among environmentalists and health groups, especially considering that 26 out of 50 US states still use paraquat in large quantities.
2,4-D is a herbicide that is used to kill weeds and was created by Dow Chemical in the 1940s. The EPA has classified 2,4-D as a possible human carcinogen, but it has not been proven to be carcinogenic in humans or animals. Furthermore, scientific evidence is mounting that the chemical is dangerous to human health and the environment. The way it works is slightly different from paraquat in that it doesn’t inhibit photosynthesis. Instead, it forces the weed cells to grow out of control. In a sense, it causes the weed to develop cancer so that it outgrows its ability to sustain itself. This causes the plant to die and reduces its spread to other areas of the farm. So far, so good, especially if you are a farmer. However, there is mounting cause for concern that 2,4-D, which was once heralded as a “green” herbicide, is anything but.
While the evidence isn’t yet conclusive, ongoing research indicates that there is a correlation between chronic exposure and some forms of cancer. The two primary forms of cancer that have been correlated with the chemical are:
- Hodgkin’s lymphoma: Hodgkin’s lymphoma is cancer that starts in the lymphatic system, which is part of the immune system. It is also known as Hodgkin’s disease.
- Sarcoma: Sarcoma is a type of cancer that starts in the thin layer of tissue called the sarcolemma, one of the three layers of muscle. Sarcoma can also begin in other cells, such as those found in bones or cartilage.
However, the main obstacle to passing legislation that might ban this substance is that not enough evidence has been collected to prove the claims conclusively. Nonetheless, 2,4-D belongs to a class of chemicals known as endocrine disruptors, which could pressure lawmakers to eventually ban or more tightly regulate its use.
Chloropicrin is a chemical compound that is used as an insecticide and herbicide. When planting a crop, chloropicrin is injected into the soil prior to planting to fumigate soil. When followed by a more effective herbicide, chloropicrin has been shown to be highly effective at destroying the most common weeds. It is currently regulated by the EPA owing to its harmful properties. To ensure chloropicrin is used safely, the EPA imposes a series of protective measures on handlers, workers, and people living and working on farms during its application. This chemical was developed in world war one for use as tear gas.
As such, when exposed to high contractions, it can cause extreme irritation on the skin, lungs (if inhaled), and eyes. Although it isn’t as harmful as the other two herbicides on this list, it has been the cause of much consternation. In 2015, the state of California unilaterally passed a series of regulations that stipulated any farm using it must create dedicated buffer zones and comply with other measures to ensure it didn’t affect farm staff employees or nearby neighborhoods. However, due to its usefulness as a herbicide and an insecticide, most states seem to be hesitant to completely ban its use or regulate it further.
Norflurazon is a chemical compound that has been used as an herbicide but is currently banned in the EU and Brazil and highly regulated in China. However, the US stands out because it still allows this toxic chemical to be used by farmers. It works similarly to paraquat in that it inhibits photosynthesis via chlorophyll depletion. Essentially, this causes the plant to die from starvation slowly. Although the EPA has classified this substance as a low toxicity, animal studies have shown it can cause developmental and reproductive problems. Furthermore, it is a potential carcinogen that could cause numerous cancers. According to the EPA, it has to be inhaled to have any detrimental effects on the human body.
Herbicides use highly toxic chemicals that can cause a wide range of detrimental effects when inhaled, ingested, or simply touched. All of those mentioned in this post are particularly hazardous and subject to strict regulations but are still used in various ways. While the EU has been proactive in banning most of those mentioned here, the US still has some way to catch up.