Are you still using pesticides?

Published in Poisons Beware

It's time to wise up! Look around, what's happening?

Save the bees! Save the bees! Vivian Grisogono

Life (and death) on Hvar

Hvar Island should be one of the healthiest places to live. However, ill-health is rife, with cancers, thyroid problems and neurological illnesses in alarmingly high numbers in such a small population. There are evident hormone problems, such as premature menopause in teenage girls, and difficulties breast-feeding in young mothers. Some of the ill-health is undoubtedly linked to the high incidence of smoking on the island. Environmental factors affecting soil quality, food production and the air that we breathe are also likely to be responsible. Environmental depletion is visible year on year throughout Hvar Island. In populated and cultivated areas there are fewer butterflies, fewer insects, fewer birds and much fewer bats. Fishermen complain that there are fewer fish. Bee-keepers in 2016 have even reported a lack of honey.

Hvar's bees are under increasing threat. Bumblebee with wildflower, March 2016. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Are chemical pesticides to blame? It is more than likely. Glyphosate, the active substance in Roundup/Cidokor, which is widely used on the island, has been strongly implicated in cancers, especially prostate and breast cancer, as well as Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, not to mention innumerable other health and environmental problems.

Words and deeds

Hvar islanders pride themselves on the island's reputation for clean air, sea and land. It's something they take for granted. Asked whether they produce their wine, olive oil, fruits and vegetables organically, the majority of islanders will answer 'Yes'.

Hvar's red earth, freshly tilled, January 2016. Healthy produce depends on uncontaminated soil. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

The reality doesn't always match up to the words. Chemical herbicides and insecticides are the stock-in-trade of many (perhaps most) Hvar farmers and gardeners. Many individuals use poisons of all kinds around their homes, gardens and fields. Some believe that pesticides are the best or even the only solution for the perceived problems of vermin, unwanted plants (aka weeds), and unwanted insects. Few think of, or care about the collateral damage caused. As for following instructions, well... weedkillers designed for annual use are often employed two or even three times in a year; recommended quantitites for application may be multiplied anything up to ten times; and poisons may be mixed together haphazardly for greater strength. Needless to say, any warnings about precautionary measures or possible health risks go unnoticed or ignored. The cumulative effects of the poisons inflicted on the island and its surrounding seas are building up year on year.

Local Council role

Jelsa's local Council (Općina) is not a role model for environmental awareness. We at Eco Hvar had reason to hope it might be. Some years ago, we were told that the Council had passed a Directive (odredba) under which it was forbidden to apply pesticides in public spaces. However, two years ago, Eco Hvar learned that Jelsa's little local park had been sprayed with a glyphosate-based herbicide, with hardly any warning, despite the fact that mothers take their children to play there on a daily basis. As a result of our complaint, Eco Hvar learned that the Council's Ecology Committee (Odbor za ekologiju), consisted of just a handful of people. One of them actually stated: 'the advancement of mankind depends on the use of 'plant protection products...' ' - that's a euphemism for poisonous pesticides, in case you didn't know. An astonishing assertion, typical of the compelling rhetoric spewed out on behalf of the agrochemical companies.

Jelsa's park could be greener. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Eco Hvar, naively as it turned out, assumed that reminding the Council about the Directive would be sufficient to put a stop to further unannounced pesticide applications in public spaces. In 2016, it became clear that this was not so. Eco Hvar questioned the Mayor and Council officials about the use of poisons in their area of responsibility. JELKOM, the Council company responsible for waste management and upkeep of public spaces like the local park, gave no clear answer on whether they had continued to use herbicide after the 2014 correspondence, but did admit to spraying the local park with insecticide against aphids. The reason for this action was obscure.

On April 11th 2016, Jelsa'a Mayor, Nikša Peronja, signed a statement encouraging local people to give up using dangerous pesticides. The document was produced and co-signed in collaboration with Eco Hvar, complete with official rubber stamps on both sides. It was to be put on all Council notice boards, according to the Mayor. That didn't happen. Not even on the board outside the Town Hall. Now it seems clear that the occasion was no more than a passing photo-opportunity. Meaningless in practice.

Dangerous practices

It should not have been a surprise that the Mayor's initiative was just empty words. Like the other local Councils on Hvar, Jelsa has a poor environmental record. One example is the continuing practice of distributing rat poison twice a year in flimsy cellophane bags. The instructions inside the bags are only in Croatian despite the number of foreign householders who are recipients of this largely unwanted 'gift'. Does poison solve vermin problems? No, mice and rats become resistant, leading to the inexorable rise of super-rats. There are better methods of vermin control, not least using their natural enemies, such as cats and certain terrier breeds of dog.

Rat poison, flimsy packaging. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

In fact, the rat poison Ratimor in the flimsy packaging ceased to be on the Ministry of Agriculture's Approved List in 2013.

'Ratimor' disallowed, 2013

Another pointless and dangerous practice on the island is the routine spraying of the streets in the height of the summer against mosquitoes. At least twice in the season a Dalek-like vehicle trundles round the streets in each Council area around Hvar Town, Stari Grad and Jelsa, spewing out a poisonous mist on either side. No quarter is given to pedestrians. There's no escape for any cars following the poison-emitter. The practice defies logic, it's the wrong time, wrong place.

Insecticide-spraying vehicle in Hvar Town. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Needless to say, far from solving the mosquito nuisance, Hvar is suffering from ever-increasing numbers of virulent isects as they become resistant to the insecticides. What are the poisons used? They change at intervals. In 2014, Permex 22E was used in a concentration of 12.36% - even though the official instructions recommend concentrations of 0.3-1% in water (page in Italian), or 3% in a solvent for confined areas. Eco Hvar warned the Council in August 2014 that Permex 22E was both dangerous and inappropriate. Yet in 2015 it was used again, this time in combination with two other poisons: Microfly and Twenty-one. Eco Hvar then made its concerns public.

As other local Councils on Hvar do much the same as Jelsa, the island is subjected to untold potential environmental harm on a depressingly regular basis.  

The example of Roundup (Cidokor)

Roundup (Cidokor) has been used in vast quantities on Hvar Island over many years. Roundup was banned from sale in the European Union on October 1st 2016, but it will still be in use for many months (if not years) as the ban did not comprise an immediate total recall.

The agrochemical industry has huge marketing power. Apart from going to great lengths to discredit any scientific evidence showing the harm done, the agrochemical companies exert a lot of influence through the internet. Well targeted Google ads often pop up alongside any article about agriculture. Glyphosate-based herbicides are foremost among the poisons given a benign makeover to encourage public consumption. Even paraquat (gramoxone), which was banned in Europe in 2007, is advertised in Google ads on European-based websites. Paraquat was used on Hvar, and is still widely used worldwide, although there is no doubt about its health risks, which include death. Marketing spin glosses over any unpleasant facts. It is not surprising that professional and domestic chemical pesticide users are lulled into a sense of false security about the products they are buying.

Google ad for the glyphosate website (matched with an article describing the poison's dangers!)

If you consult the 'Glyphosate Facts' website, it claims that that glyphosate can be used in all kinds of places, from private gardens to crop plantations, to 'aquatic environments' to forests; it is said to control all kinds of weeds, including the notorious Japanese knotweed. There are pictures of thriving fruit trees, butterflies, sunny fields. It's all very convincing to those who do not know about the mass of evidence showing the harm glyphosate can do. In 2001, a case was brought against Monsanto in the French courts, claiming that their advertising had misled the public on questions of environmental safety, specifically claims that their product was 'biodegradable' and 'left soil clean'. Despite two appeals, Monsanto lost the case in a final decision delivered in 2009. Undeterred, the propaganda machine rolls on, riding roughshod over such irritating setbacks. They are quickly pushed into oblivion so far as public aawareness is concerned.

Do herbicides work? What actually happens in practice?

The pictures below show a field near Pitve on Hvar Island, which was sprayed with Roundup (Cidokor) in March 2014. This was the first time the field was sprayed. It had been unattended for very many years, then ploughed up and planted with olives. The owner in fact wanted to cultivate his olives organically, but a workman took it on himself to use herbicide rather than strimming. The effect of the herbicide started to show about ten days after the application.

About 10 days after Roundup/Cidokor application, March 10th 2014. Photo Vivian Grisogono

After a couple of weeks, most of the plant growth was a burnt-out sorry-looking mess. It would be a major stretch of the imagination to describe the field as 'clean'. There were pheasants in that field until the spraying, but they disappeared straight away. Many months later, the body of one female pheasant was found (although it was not certain how she died). Two dogs who by chance were in direct contact with the herbicide fell ill with leishmaniasis, and are on long-term medication for this incurable condition. (Leishmaniasis is endemic on the island. In all the cases I have come across, the dogs were in contact with soil sprayed with herbicide. Coincidence? I for one do not believe that.)

About three weeks after application, 23rd March 2014. Photo Vivian Grisogono

A couple of months after the spraying, new growth began to appear.

Two months after application, 5th May 2014. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Another month, and the field was well covered, with bare patches of depleted earth as testimony to the effects of the herbicide. The following year, the depletion of the soil was still evident, but there was an abundance of wild growth. No pheasants though, they kept to surrounding areas which were not directly dowsed with herbicides.

Just over a year post-herbicide, 16th April 2015. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

So did the Roundup application eliminate the unwanted plants / weeds? No, obviously not. Did it cause collateral damage? Yes, undoubtedly. Are there long-term ill-effects? Pretty certainly. The person potentially most at risk is of course the workman who applied the herbicide.

Over a year post-herbicide, 4th May 2015. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

No escaping the ill-effects

Using herbicide affects much more than the target plants. The poison spreads. It is also spread around by footwear, especially if public paths are contaminated. One can see the telltale trail of yellowing plants when people walk over sprayed earth and then on to areas which have not been treated. Obviously, the poison can be transmitted in the same way into people's houses, a worrying thought, especially in homes where children play on the floor.

Path sprayed with herbicide. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Herbicides have lasting effects

Plants grow again after herbicide application. Some show the effects of the herbicide, sometimes for years afterwards. Grass, for instance, shows an unnatural yellow-orange tinge. This can happen even in areas which have not been sprayed directly, but which have been contaminated by footwear or by spray drift through the air.

Over a year after spraying: after-effects of glyphosate-based herbicide. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Cumulative harm

Of course, the manufacturers do not claim that a single application will remove unwanted plants forever. They want you to buy more. They don't tell you about the resistant plants which floourish after herbicide applications. The more attractive ones include creeping buttercup, poppies and arum lilies. For the increasingly resistant weeds, the agrochemical industry provides the stock answer: more and stronger herbicides. The Paraquat website boasts of paraquat being effective against glyphosate-resistant weeds. The weeds get tougher and tougher. Soil exposed to herbicides is more and more depleted, and remains contaminated for much longer than the manufacturers claim.

How can you trust them?

Smooth advertising spin from the agrochemical industry, coupled with official reassurances from regulators, make it seem that chemical pesticides are safe. Contrary information goes unseen. The manufacturers, of course, deny the damage which glyphosate-based herbicides are known to be associated with. To counter the agrochemical industry's well-oiled propaganda machine there would have to be a massive advertising campaign. But who would fund it?

Almond tree - probable wind-drift damage after Roundup/Cidokor application nearby, July 2014. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

It's your choice

Public health - that is yours and mine - has been put at risk for years by the use of tonnes of chemical pesticides. Every individual has the right to choose whether to use legally authorized substances or not. If you use, or intend to use chemical pesticides, BE INFORMED.

BEAR IN MIND that chemical pesticides are poisons which have not been, and cannot be proven safe. If you use them you risk your own health, the health of those around you, and that of future generations - of your children and theirs. You are also causing potential damage to the environment, ultimately creating more problems than you were trying to solve in the beginning.

THINK OF THE ALTERNATIVES. There are plenty of natural methods for controlling weeds, unwanted insects and rodents. Apart from the methods used by our forbears before chemical pesticides came into general use, you can find many different techniques on the internet.

THINK OF THE SAVINGS. Pesticides cost money. Pesticides cost health. Healthcare costs money. HEALTH IS BEYOND PRICE.

IT'S UP TO YOU!

 

© Vivian Grisogono MA(Oxon) 2016

Media

You are here: Home poisons be aware Are you still using pesticides?

Eco Environment News feeds

  • Treasury review will help determine whether UK meets climate goals, and experts say radical change is required

    The UK chancellor, Rishi Sunak, must radically overhaul the Treasury’s response to the climate crisis, reforming the department’s longstanding hostility to green spending and resetting its priorities, experts said.

    The Treasury is poised to introduce its long-awaited review of the government’s net zero strategy, and its recommendations will help determine whether the UK meets stringent targets on greenhouse gas emissions in the next 15 years.

    Continue reading...

  • Writer Elizabeth-Jane Burnett brings together 400 voices for optimistic riposte to events of past year

    Some described chance encounters with birds and animals beginning to chirrup and scurry as the days lengthened and warmed; others focused on feelings of relief, hope and lingering melancholy after a long and challenging winter.

    The observations, thoughts and sentiments of members of the public who were invited to contribute to a crowdsourced poem celebrating the coming of spring 2021 have been weaved together into a new poem by the nature writer Elizabeth-Jane Burnett.

    Continue reading...

  • Wolsingham, County Durham:Pearly buds have opened, smothering blackthorn twigs in a froth of blossom. Spring’s brief intermission is over

    In The Generation Game, a popular 1970s TV show, winning contestants watched desirable prizes pass by on a conveyor belt, but afterwards only took home those they could remember in 45 seconds. Recalling the pageant of spring flora – a prize for getting through a long winter – sometimes feels like a similar challenge, especially since the floral conveyor belt accelerates as temperatures rise and days lengthen.

    The earliest flowers soon fade from memory. When I walked this footpath two weeks ago, yellow star of Bethlehem that bloomed in March was already hidden under an aniseed-scented canopy of sweet cicely foliage. Lesser celandines and violets were reaching their peak, toothwort and butterbur had just shouldered aside last autumn’s decayed leaves, and drifts of wood anemones and ramsons were about to grace the woodland.

    Continue reading...

  • Researchers say loss of diversity in Sweden’s Atlantic salmon population could compromise ability of fish to adapt to climate change

    Fish farming may have been devised as a remedy to reinvigorate dwindling fish stocks but this human solution has spawned another problem: lower genetic diversity.

    Now, a study shows that the genetic makeup of Atlantic salmon populations from a century ago compared with the current stock across 13 Swedish rivers is more genetically similar than distinct, which researchers say could compromise the ability of the fish to adapt to climate change.

    Continue reading...

  • Researchers in Canada find that population did not make the 6,000km roundtrip in 2018-2019

    As the ice melts at pace in the Arctic, the mining and shipping industry has carved itself an opportunity out of the crisis. Meanwhile, the marine ecosystem is left to coping with the heat, noise, pollution and the cascade of other changes that come with the upheaval of the environment.

    Now researchers have found a whale species that typically migrates away from solid sea ice each autumn and returns every summer to feast on tiny crustaceans did not make the 6,000km (3,700-mile) roundtrip in 2018-2019.

    Continue reading...

  • It will be dealt with by salt of the earth scientists and farmers - the sort of Australians people like you only ever have to think about when you fire them

    Continue reading...

  • President will unveil new emissions reduction target while much will hinge upon cooperation between China and US

    Joe Biden’s desire to re-establish US leadership on the climate crisis will face a severe test this week at a summit the president hopes will rebuild American credibility and kickstart a spluttering international effort to stave off the effects of global heating.

    Biden has invited 40 world leaders to a two-day virtual gathering starting on Earth Day, Thursday, as the opening salvo in negotiations leading to crunch United Nations talks in Scotland later this year. Scientists say the world is severely lagging in tackling the climate crisis and its heatwaves, storms and floods, with planet-heating emissions set to roar back following a dip due to coronavirus shutdowns.

    Continue reading...

  • Bad decisions are harming the UK’s green credentials. Boris Johnson must get beyond targets if he wants be taken seriously

    The starting gun has been fired. With a pledge to cut the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions by 78% by 2035 compared with 1990 levels, Boris Johnson’s government has begun the bidding process that will set the scene for the Cop26 climate talks. As Mr Johnson knows, November’s meeting in Glasgow is a chance for the host country and its leaders to shine. And so his government has taken the cue and announced a toughening of existing targets – in line with UK law and following advice from its advisers on the Committee on Climate Change – ahead of a virtual climate summit of 40 world leaders to be hosted by Joe Biden.

    In the coming days, countries including the US and Japan are expected to present their nationally determined contributions, or NDCs, as plans to cut emissions over the next decade are known. The world will soon know a good deal more about our prospects of avoiding catastrophic warming of over 1.5C. But distracting as the geopolitical scenario may be, in particular the extraordinary transformation of American climate policy since Donald Trump’s defeat, this is not the time to ease the pressure on Mr Johnson. Instead, it must be drastically ramped up.

    Continue reading...

  • Global economies forecast to pour stimulus money into fossil fuels as part of Covid recovery

    Carbon dioxide emissions are forecast to jump this year by the second biggest annual rise in history, as global economies pour stimulus cash into fossil fuels in the recovery from the Covid-19 recession.

    The leap will be second only to the massive rebound 10 years ago after the financial crisis, and will put climate hopes out of reach unless governments act quickly, the International Energy Agency has warned.

    Continue reading...

  • Carbon dioxide to be cut by 78% by 2035 compared with 1990 levels, the prime minister is to say later this week

    The UK is to toughen its targets on greenhouse gas emissions for the next 15 years, the first major developed economy to do so, the Guardian understands.

    Following recommendations of the government’s statutory climate advisors, carbon dioxide is to be cut by 78% by 2035 compared with 1990 levels, the prime minister will say later this week – an increase from the current target of a 68% reduction by 2030.

    Continue reading...

Eco Health News feeds

Eco Nature News feeds