Pesticide Use In Australia – The 10 Toxic Truths

What are the effects of industrial and agricultural chemicals (Pesticide Use In Australia) on the health of our soils, environment and bodies? How can we reduce our exposure?

Professor Marc Cohen says understanding the truths about toxic chemicals is our first line of defence.


Pesticide Use In Australia - Nutrition choice and diet decision concept and eating choices dilemma between healthy good fresh fruit and vegetables or greasy cholesterol rich fast food with two hands holding food trying to decide what to eat.

It is widely recognised that the greatest underlying cause of death among humans today is a lifestyle-related chronic disease. The world is in the grip of an epidemic of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, dementia and more, fuelled by a high intake of sugar, fat, salt, alcohol, tobacco, and a lack of physical activity.

In addition to this voluntary consumption, the entire human population is exposed to a toxic cocktail of industrial chemicals.

The impact of industrial chemicals on human health was recently highlighted by WHO, which forecasts a “tidal wave of cancer” (International Agency for Research on Cancer 2014).  Meanwhile public health researchers suggest we are experiencing a “silent pandemic of neuro-developmental disorders” and a “chemical brain drain” brought about by the exposure of an entire generation to industrial chemicals (Grandjean 2014).

There are many actions we can take to avoid voluntary and involuntary health risks and, rather than becoming despondent, we need to become more aware and vigilant.

Since the 16th century when Paracelsus stated “the dose makes the poison”, this idea formed the basis for the regulation of toxic chemicals, including the use of pesticides and pharmaceuticals. We now know this truth is incomplete. It is not only the dose, but also the type of chemical, the timing of the exposure, the combination of chemicals and individual risk factors that combine to produce toxic effects.

Pesticide Use In Australia – The 10 Toxic Truths:


Toxic chemical exposure has become an inevitable part of modern life and everyone is affected. Toxic chemicals are pervasive in our food, soil, air, water and indoor environments as well as in all human tissue, including umbilical cord blood and breast milk.


There are more than 80,000 industrial chemicals that are commercially produced with more than 3000 produced in high volume and many tens of thousands more being inadvertently produced from industrial processes. Yet, as these numbers rise every year, in most cases it is not possible to determine a chemical’s ‘safe level’ or ‘toxicity threshold’. And even when it is, it is difficult to interpret their clinical significance because of the complex relationship between toxic load, individual susceptibility, clinical symptoms and chronic disease.


Yes…this occurs when chemicals disturb the body’s regulatory processes rather than just impacting on target organs or tissues. By disrupting the endocrine (hormonal) system, the potential to reap metabolic havoc is greatly increased and extremely small exposures – orders of magnitude below recognised safety standards – can have dramatic effects, which can be irreversible and latent.

Many chemicals which are still being used can impair reproduction, behaviour, intellectual capacity and ability to resist disease in current and future generations. The magnitude of the effects and outcomes may not be known for generations. I think we are already starting to see glimpses of this.

WHO and United Nations Environment Program on the ‘State of the Science of Endocrine Disruptors’ confirms exposure to industrial chemicals with endocrine-disrupting actions are contributing to a global increase in obesity, cancer, psychiatric diseases, birth deformities, ADHD and neuro-developmental problems in children, with current findings being “the tip of the iceberg”.


Many toxic chemicals are fat soluble and last for decades in the environment where they undergo biomagnification (tissue concentration increases) as they pass up the food chain. Even though the use of most persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are banned in agriculture, these chemicals now permeate the global environment and lodge in the fatty tissue of animals where they biomagnify millions of times as they travel up the food chain.


Exposure to chemical mixtures can produce a toxic chemical cocktail that otherwise on their own where below the threshold for alarm. Mixture toxicity is not accounted for in chemical risk assessments, however this is the way pesticides are actively formulated to increase their potency. There also have unnamed and unlabeled adjuvants that are designed to make the active ingredients more potent by increasing cell penetration. These often make formulations hundreds of times more toxic than the active ingredients alone (Mesnage 2014).


Througout a person’s lifespan, combinations of persistent chemicals accumulate in fatty tissue such as brain, breast, prostate and bone marrow, which are often the tissues that develop cancers in later years. Our exposure rates to fat-soluble chemicals often exceeds the excretion rate leading to accumulation in fatty tissue.

Then many other water-soluble endocrine (hormone) disrupting chemicals such as BPA and organophosphates (OP) pesticides that are ingested continually throughout a person’s lifespan, making them pseudo-persistent.


The toxic effects of chemical exposure during critical periods, such as early childhood, can be irreversible. For instance, Thalidomide in 1970’s where thousands of children were born without arms. More recently, in utero-exposure to organophosphate pesticides (OP) has been shown to impair children’s intellectual development later in life.


Parental exposure to industrial chemicals can affect offspring and future generations. Many chemicals interfere with biochemical and endocrine pathways, induce genetic and developmental abnormalities and produce trans-generational epigenetic effects that may lead to abnormalities in the third or fourth generation post-exposure.

This has recently been demonstrated experimentally with a single exposure to a commonly used fungicide being shown to alter the physiology, behaviour, metabolic activity and brain development in offspring three generations later.


The health risks of chemical exposures differ according to individual risk factors that include health status, physiology and genetics. Children are most vulnerable due to their higher dietary exposure, contact with the ground, hand-to-mouth behaviour, higher metabolic activity, immature organ systems, longer latency period for developing disease and sensitive development windows so that exposures lead to lifelong consequence (Landrigan 2005).

The US-based Pesticide Action Network recently published a review of scientific literature titled ‘Generation in Jeopardy: How pesticides are undermining our children’s health and intelligence’, which reports on how pesticide exposure is compromising our children’s cognitive function and leads to later chronic disease (Schafer 2013).


Everyone is exposed to industrial pollutants, yet exposure risk is not equal. Exposures vary with age, income, education, occupation, location, lifestyle, accidents and much more. Industrial accidents have inadvertently exposed vast populations of humans and wildlife to industrial pollutants. These accidents have occurred at every stage of the chemical production cycle mining (BP oil spill), transport (Exxon Valdez), manufacture (Bhopal), use (Fukushima, Chernobyl), and disposal (Love Canal). Often with minimal, delayed and inadequate compensation and remediation measures.


I hope it got you thinking. We need to start making healthy choices to protect ourselves, our children and our future generations. Understanding Pesticide Use In Australia is the first step.

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