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Agrochemicals and their Environmental Impact

Agrochemicals and their Environmental Impact

Impact Agrochemicals are substances used within agricultural ecosystems. Examples include pesticides, herbicides, soil conditioners, fertilizers, fungicides, and chemicals used to enhance livestock growth (such as antibiotics, hormones, and growth agents). These are also known as agricultural chemicals. Initially employed to enhance crop production, the overuse of agrochemicals has begun to adversely affect the environment. Agrochemicals can infiltrate surrounding land and water bodies, entering the food chain and leading to bioaccumulation. Between 1990 and 2017, global pesticide use surged from 2.29 million tons to 4.11 million tons.

Impacts on the Environment, Soil, Water, and Air: Soil

Nitrogen is vital for soil fertility, with soil bacteria playing a role in its creation. However, when agrochemicals spill onto the soil, they harm or diminish bacteria, leading to reduced nitrogen and mineral levels. They can eradicate beneficial soil organisms, increase nitrate content, alter pH levels, induce unnatural growth, have residual effects, and bioaccumulate, entering the food chain. Pesticides also harm bacteria that decompose organic matter and worms that aid plant irrigation.

Air Pollution

Pesticides can contaminate the air, affecting human, animal, and plant health. During spraying, agrochemicals can spread via wind to nearby surfaces and settlements. These chemicals endanger pollinators like bees, fruit flies, beetles, spiders, and birds, reducing their populations. Inhaling or skin contact with pesticides can lead to health issues such as cancer, birth defects, reproductive harm, immune and neurological toxicity, and endocrine disruption. Pesticides can also cause allergies and asthma. Pesticide particles diffuse in the air, altering their composition, and winds disperse polluted air, increasing the risk of respiratory illnesses.

Water Pollution

Persistent organic pesticides can enter water bodies through various mechanisms, including atmospheric precipitation and untreated chemical waste from pesticide manufacturing industries. These pesticides harm sea life, accumulate in fish, and enter the food chain. Fish ingest pesticides and infected aquatic plants, leading to toxin accumulation in their tissues and organs, especially the gills. Agrochemicals in water promote algae growth, leading to fish kills and water pollution. Excessive chemicals lead to eutrophication, altering water’s chemical properties. Ensuring protection against pesticides entering both ground and surface water is crucial.

Impact on Crops

Excessive agrochemical use results in residues that cause nutrient imbalances and reduced agricultural produce quality. Consuming these residues is linked to various illnesses. For instance, pesticide residues in food can heighten asthma risk.

Agrochemical and Climate Change

Climate change triggers higher pest and disease incidents, driving increased agrochemical use. Yet, producing and using agrochemicals to control pests and diseases contributes to climate issues. Nitrogen-based fertilizer production is energy-intensive and generates nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas.

Solutions

Biopesticides, derived from natural materials like plants, bacteria, fungi, or minerals, offer an eco-friendlier way to control pests and diseases in agriculture. Examples include neem oil, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), and fungi like Beauveria bassiana. They target specific pests while sparing beneficial organisms. EPA’s facilitation of biopesticide registration in 2016 reflects their environmental friendliness. Plant-derived substances such as corn gluten, black pepper, and garlic compounds degrade quickly. Soil fumigants can also be used to control soil-borne pests. By employing these solutions and adopting responsible agrochemical use, we can mitigate the environmental impacts associated with these chemicals.

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