How lead and arsenic came to be sprayed all over America

Thursday, March 20, 2014 by: Ethan A. Huff, staff writer
Tags: lead arsenate, pesticides, heavy metals

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(NaturalNews) As we continue to uncover the deep, dark history of chemical use in the United States as part of a series on arsenate pesticides, the issue comes up as to how heavy metals like lead and arsenic ever came to be accepted as beneficial for spraying all over our growing soils in the first place. Like many other problems of our day, the industrial revolution and its obsession with mechanization led to widespread reliance on chemicals to grow food, a move that we now know could have lasting negative consequences for humanity.

Most major environmental and human health problems that we as a species currently face, in fact -- things like radioactive fallout from nuclear meltdowns, toxic ocean water from oil spills and contaminated soils from agricultural chemicals -- are a direct result of the industrial revolution. In the case of food crops, the conversion of many polyculture-based family farms into massive monoculture-based factory farms led to an overpopulation of invasive species, for which chemicals were the only perceived solution.

A 2009 study on the history of lead arsenate use in apple orchards, published in the Journal of Pesticide Safety Education, explains that inorganic pesticides emerged in the late 1800s as a pest control option because it was inexpensive, easy to mix, long-lasting and highly effective. Apparently, few people were concerned about the potential safety issues associated with the use of these chemicals, not to mention how they might persist in growing soils for many decades to come.

"Lead arsenate (PbHAsO4) was first used as an insecticidal spray in 1892 against the gypsy moth, Lymantria dispar (Linnaeus), in Massachusetts," explains the study. "A few years later, growers began using it to combat the codling moth, Cydia pomonella (Linnaeus), a destructive insect pest of apples."

Naturally, as time went on, increasing amounts and variations of these and other arsenate pesticides were required to keep pests under control, until eventually they all lost their efficacy due to pest resistance. Chemical manufacturers switched to a new class of chemicals, but the old ones remained in growing soils where they continue to contaminate food crops.

"The characteristics of the compounds that created this persistence -- the basic nature of the elements in the pesticide -- and the increase in application frequency and rates were key factors contributing to the contamination of thousands of acres across the United States," adds the study.

Many American subdivisions sit atop arsenic-contaminated soils

Agriculturally speaking, all this past chemical pollution is still wreaking havoc on the food supply today, with rice and certain other food crops that are now planted in these tainted soils still pulling chemicals out of the ground. The result of this, as we have previously reported, is high levels of arsenic and lead in some rice protein products, as well as in other foods.

Many suburban dwellers face additional exposure risks from the apple orchards of old that existed long before all those tract homes. Millions of American homes now blanket the sites of these former orchards, which were heavily doused with arsenical pesticides thanks to the aggressive marketing tactics of the chemical industry.

"The chemical companies and the advertisers successfully magnified farmers' fear of pests and dramatized the problems in such a manner that the farmers felt forced by bankers and the fear of crop loss into using this terrible poison on their farms and families," reads a thorough report on the history of arsenic and farming by Cheslea Green Publishing, which you can view here:

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