The 411 on pesticides. . . and you!

I was asked by my patient to address pesticides and their safety.  Well, not surprisingly, they are not safe to be drank or rubbed into one’s skin.  But, what and how dangerous are they?

Organophosphates are a class of insecticides used worldwide for the past 50 years. Their use has declined in the last 10 to 20 years, because another class of insecticides, carbamates, were discovered.   Both classes are toxic to the brain and nerves.

In 2008 the United States reported 8,000 toxic exposures to these agents, resulting in less than 15 deaths. Toxicity usually results from accidental or intentional ingestion of (or exposure to) agricultural pesticides.   Eating contaminated fruit, flour, or cooking oil, or wearing contaminated clothing can also result in adverse symptoms.

Advice:  Keep poisons away from children.  Follow their instructions.  Store in their original containers and maintain labels.  Consider ladybugs to help control pests in a garden.

If a toxic ingestion occurs expect

  • excessive drooling and eye watering,
  • vomiting, and
  • difficulty breathing.   Seek emergency care immediately.

Interestingly, science reveals beneficial uses of organophosphates and carbamates.  At controlled doses, they treat glaucoma, myasthenia gravis, and Alzheimer’s dementia.

Watch out!  The next few sentences will contain chemical terms (most often seen the chemistry lab or the lawn and garden department). Types of carbamate are methomyl and aldicarb.  Whereas, organophosphate are also known as parathion, fenthion, malathion, diazinon, and dursban insecticides. Chlorpyrifos, the organophosphate agent of dursban, is found in some popular household roach and ant sprays, including Raid® and Black Flag®. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned many household uses of chlorpyrifos in 2001. If there is skin contamination with a pesticide, clothing should be removed and the skin aggressively cleaned with soap and water.

Further information on pesticide intoxication can be obtained in the United States from National Pesticide Telecommunications Network at: 1-800-858-7378 or

I hope this helps

About drlesliegreenberg

I have been practicing as a family physician for over 20 years--as both an educator of physicians and clinician. From infancy to the elderly, I perform obstetrics and general medicine. I love my career and am passionate about my field of knowledge and my patients. Follow me on Facebook at Leslie Md Greenberg Medical Disclaimer The content of this website is provided for general informational purposes only and is not intended as, nor should it be considered a substitute for, professional medical advice. Do not use the information on this website for diagnosing or treating any medical or health condition. If you have or suspect you have a medical problem, promptly contact your professional healthcare provider.
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