Wondrous Wildlife
By Vern and Lori Gieger
Invisible Assassins

     Sold under a variety of brand names, pesticides and herbicides may be liquid, powder or gas (fumigant). Whether a pesticide or herbicide, they both have one thing in common...they are invisible killers leaving a path of disease, death, and destruction in their wakes.
     DDT has been banned in the U.S. and Canada for years, and for good reasons. What you may not know is that it is still used here in Mexico. Legally DDT production is limited to public health needs and for international trade. Two certified concentrations are available: technical grade, 100 percent pure for use in commercial products, labeled for use in “public health programs” by the government. However, the second concentration, the 75 percent mix is used for household application.
     DDT is only one of the many villains; another pesticide widely used throughout Mexico is malathion. Depending on the pesticide, it may contain compounds of arsenic, dioxins etc., as well as agents closely related to the nerve gas used in WWII. Some toxins used in malathion become even more toxic when exposed to sunlight. Yet many consumers use them every day. So, before you have your gardeners fill up the sprayer and head into your garden, you may want to think twice.
     Pesticides are devastating to our wildlife populations; exposure to these toxins can cause reduced fertility and hatching rates, birth defects, retarded growth, cancer, anemia, metabolic abnormalities, poor immune systems, neurological abnormalities, as well as death.
     Scientific tests conclude these toxins over time can have the same devastating effects on humans as well. Poisons affect all species in an ecosystem, not just the small and inconspicuous. When we use biotechnology to solve environmental problems, we also need to consider its potential impact on the entire ecosystem. Only by considering the ecosystem as a whole, can we protect it and reduce the growing list of endangered and threatened species.
     Pesticides kill the very critters that control pests. An example, goldfish, guppies and fathead minnows, love to munch on mosquito larvae. Frogs, dragonflies, ladybugs and many species of birds also feed on mosquitoes. A bat can eat 1000 or so per night. A mosquito lives for about two weeks; much less than their predators. If both are killed, mosquitoes will replenish their populations much more rapidly.
     Pesticides can be lethal even in small doses especially to birds, either directly or indirectly. Consider this, if you spray your garden with malathion it is gradually absorbed by your flowering plants. As a result the nectar is laced with malathion; hummingbirds feed upon the sweet, but deadly, nectar.
     Less than 1% of pesticides actually reaches the intended target; the rest ends up contaminating the air, soil, water, plants, animals and us. Various components of pesticides also pose separate risks. Simply put, as some breakdown in the environment, they become even more toxic. For instance, when DDT, breaks down it becomes the more lethal DDE.
     These toxins do not stay in one place. Wind drift, water runoff, groundwater leaching, water currents and animals move contaminants around the world, from continent to continent and sea to sea. Biological dispersion insures that one area’s local contamination will become tomorrow’s global problem. We should consider very carefully which poisons we use; whether it is the lirio in the lake or an ant nest in our back yard. Most herbicides and pesticides affect both animals and humans, as well as killing beneficial plants and insects.