Soil and Pesticides

A single teaspoon of fertile soil that has compost added to it regularly contains an amazing 100million bacteria an astonishing 400 to 800ft of fungi threads (called hyphae) and millions of other microbes. Soils that receive only chemical fertilizers typically contain lower numbers of these beneficial creatures (Almanac& Pest-control Primer p41).

Isn’t this amazing! Looking at even a small handful of compost I cannot imagine that this amount of life could fit into a teaspoon. So what’s the benefit of all this microscopic life? They are the foundation of all that grows. Any plant you grow develops a mutually dependent or ‘symbiotic’ relationship with this microscopic life that ensures they will reach their full potential.It’s all hidden in the soil. Notice, I wrote soil not dirt. Dirt is what gets under your fingernails or what you track into the house when you’ve had a wonderful day in the garden.

Now soil, well that’s a different story, soil is a fine balance of life and death. Consider the leaves we all want to rake up–well DON’T DO IT. Mulch them with your lawnmower, or put them in the compost or in an area that you what to naturalize. To stay healthy the tree that produced those leaves needs them back. I realize you’re going to tell me that you’ve been cleaning up those leaves under your 60 yr old oak for years and that tree is healthy enough to live another 300yrs. Well it might out live you and your children but there will come a time when that tree has used up all the nutrients in the soil. Where did a lot of those nutrients come from–the leaves? All those millions of microbes break the leaves down to make new organic matter for the soil. In the process they return the nutrients bound up in the leaves back to the soil so the tree can reuse them.So how do pesticides come in to play? Within the fine balance of your soil the food chain provides the fertility. The bacteria, fungi and the millions of other microbes are living and dying right under your feet. Think of them as individual bricks, these bricks layer and knit together to form the strong foundation of healthy soil.

When pesticides are introduced the balance is upset. Groups of bacteria, fungi or microbes are killed or reduced. The result is an increase in other soil life upsetting the balance that has been working together successfully since before agriculture.

Soil health is not the only thing that suffers. Most pesticides have no natural mechanisms in the soil to break them down into harmless compounds. When you apply them even in small amounts they stay in the soil until they are taken by some organism and enter the food chain. Follow the food chain from soil microbes to worms and insects to birds. Check the web site of Pesticides and Bird Campaign at Eventually the food chain leads to us.

So why are you putting your leaves in bag at the curb? Why not use your lawn mower to mulching them instead? Its less work, less time consuming and less cost. As for the pesticide use, why pay money to upset a balance that is working and will continue to work if you let nature replace what it uses each season. For other sites concerning pesticides type soil and pesticides, birds and pesticides or soil life into your search box.

The Ecochem site at has some interesting items on it such as the following definitions:

  • Herbicides: Used to kill weeds
  • Insecticides: Used to kill insects
  • Fungicides: Used to control molds and fungi
  • Rodenticides: Used to kill rodents.

All pesticides have one thing in common, they are poisons designed to kill things and they have the potential to be harmful to humans if ingested in sufficient amounts.

0 thoughts on “Soil and Pesticides

  1. It is unfortunate to have a naive way of looking at pesticides. To quote the ending statement;

    “All pesticides have one thing in common, they are poisons designed to kill things and they have the potential to be harmful to humans if ingested in sufficient amounts.”

    The key here is “in sufficient amounts.” For example – a single slice of bread contains Acetalhehyde (mutagen and potent rondent carcinogen) Acrylamide (rodent and human neurotoxin and rodent carcinogen) Benzo(a)pyrene (mutagen and rodent carcinogen) Ethyl alcohol (human and rodent carcinogen) among a host of other chemicals. But does that make you pause and throw away your morning toast? Of course not.

    The consumption of small doses of rodent carcinogens, whether of natural or synthetic origin, is quite unlikely to pose a cancer hazard to humans. When you understand that carcinogens and mutagens are everywhere in Mother Nature’s own food supply, you can see the absurdity of panicking over tiny levels in the food supply of synthetic chemicals (such as pesticide residues) that are “carcinogens” when fed in large doses over a lifetime to rodents.

    If you chose to believe that every rodent carcinogen was also a potential human carcinogen, and if you then chose to extrapolate directly from rodent to human, the background of naturally occurring chemicals that people consume at levels close to the rodent-carcinogenic dose would still cast doubt on the importance for human cancer of synthetic chemical residues.

    Note, for example a slice of bread also contains furfural, a potent rodent carcinogen. But when you take into account the difference in body weight between a human and a rodent, you will see that, based on the carcinogenicity data available from the laboratory, a person would have to eat 82,600 slices of bread *a day* to consume an amount of furfural equal to the amount that increased the risk of cancer in rodents in laboratory experiments.

    Pesticides simply are not the boogeyman that some would have us believe. Once again I would hope that the current council would focus on the city itself, and leave the regulation and use of commercial products to the levels of government already responsible for such things.

  2. I would encourage all readers of this blog – including the Ward 2 councillors who run it, to read some science based information regarding soil and pesticides. Some links:

    American Council of Science and Health

    The Fraser Institute

    Oregon State University – National Pesticide Information Centre

    USA Government – Enviromental Protection Agency

    Health Canada

    Greenspirit Strategies Ltd.
    (Run by the co-founder of Greenpeace)

  3. Nora, it doesn’t seem that you read the original post.

    The first fundamental issue raised was that dirt isn’t just “dirt”, but a complex ecosystem. When a pesticide is added to it, it dramatically degrades the complex web of interactions that take place within it. This has complex and far-reaching results. The point wasn’t that your morning toast causes cancer in you, but rather that the use of pesticides dramatically degrades the soil.

    The second fundamental issue raised was that of bio-accumulation. That is, that some toxins tend to accumulate in higher and higher quantities as they go through the food chain. The amount of toxins in a grass hopper may be small, but when a songbird eats 10,000 over a summer, it can end up with 10,000 the amount of toxin in its body. And if a raptor eats 1000 songbirds over a season, the result can be 100,000,000 times as much toxin in its body.

    And yes, the pesticides are poisons. Many of them are biproducts of the development of nerve gas for human warfare. (This is why nerve gas so easily proliferates around the world. The nerve gas that Saddam Hussein used to kill the Kurds was produced by a pesticide plant that that was sold to him by Germany.) There really is no correlate to them in the natural world.

  4. Fluoride was used by the Nazis to sterilize inmates and make them docile. Fluoride is a key dumbed down ingredient of Prozac and Sarin nerve gas — poisons of choice for tyrant rats.

    Ban toothpaste!!!

    Both chocolate and onions are highly toxic to dogs – but millions of children will enjoy a sweet treat this easter. And I’m guessing you might have a few onions in your house right now – at least it’s a pretty good bet.

    Grub-b-gone doesn’t hurt the dandilions – and Wipe-Out doesn’t hurt the grubs. (I’ll leave out what might kill the raptors. ROFL! I keep picturing them sitting around a campfire barbequing their latest catch of songbirds 😛 Cute li’l beggars.)

    Dr. Patrick Moore, co-founder, Chairman and Chief Scientist for Greenpeace for over 15 years wrote an interesting article for the National Post “How Pesticides are saving the Earth.”

    Surely if a commited and esteemed environmentalist such as the co-founder of Greenpeace does not see pesticides as the boogeyman – and in fact lauds them on several different levels? – then I don’t feel there’s anything to fear.

    If this city was serious about what they perceive as the dangers of pesticides – make the golf courses stop using them, for certainly they use far more than the once yearly spraying on my little piece of the rock.

    Oh wait – the golf courses can afford to pay a whole bunch of lawyers and expert witnesses !

    I suppose the current council would rather micro-manage the private lives of citizens then face the real issues that challenge them like the crumbling infrastructure, road challenges, watching the carefully sorted blue and green bags thrown into the back of the same truck, the multi-million dollar SUBBOR lawsuit (thank you very much, Ms. Farbridge) among a host of other issues.

  5. I did respond.

    You said “pesticides are poison.” I said *everything* is poisonous in sufficient quantity – even bottled organic water or a simple piece of toast. Therefore the fact that pesticides may be poisonous to the pests they target does not co-relate to any threat to humans.

    You said they were the by-product of nerve gasses (which I don’t believe, but don’t feel it’s important enough to waste time and energy correcting you on it) and I said that there’s lots of by-products of nerve gasses – such as flouride.

    You mentioned bio-accumulation and dinosaurs munching on songbirds. After I stopped laughing, I realized that if you had such a naive and simplistic way of looking at the world that is based so far away from scientific fact – I thought I’d try to stop convincing you myself (I think if I said the sky was blue – you’d probably think I’m a shill for blue-sky big industry :P) and hope that you might take the word of one of the world’s premier environmentalists, the co-founder of Greenpeace.

    You say that pesticides degrade the soil, but offer no proof. How can an infestation of grubs or cinch-bugs be good for what you seem to think is such a precarious balance? Or an infestation of agressively invasive weeds like dandelion or purple loostrife? They crowd out native plants, harm animal habitats and increase erosion.

    I suppose it would take too much effort for you to actually read my response. 😛 But let’s keep this forum a discussion of ideas rather than personal comments, shall we?

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