Pesticide Accumulation: A Chain of Poison



Devika and her husband Sunil were just finishing a cup of tea after a delicious meal of rice and fish, when suddenly Devika started to feel dizzy and sick to her stomach. Then her whole body started to shake. Sunil was worried and rushed Devika to the health clinic.

The doctor at the health clinic told the couple that Devika was suffering from pesticide poisoning.

Pesticide poisoning!!

Devika and Sunil were shocked. They didn’t use pesticides. They didn’t even live on a farm!

How could this have happened? It was a mystery to Sunil and Devika. But the following explanation will tell you how it happened. It will show you how pesticides can move from the body of one animal to the body of another animal. It will also show you how a pesticide can poison people even if they live far away from the place where the pesticide is sprayed.

Farmer Kumble lived down the road from Sunil and Devika, in the next town. One day he noticed that cabbage moths were eating his cauliflower plants. He decided to spray his field with a pesticide to kill the moths. The pesticide covered the soil and everything on it. Some of the pesticide landed on an earthworm. The earthworm got sick and couldn’t tunnel back into the soil. The next time it rained, that earthworm and many other poisoned earthworms were washed off the field into a lagoon. A small fish was swimming by and ate one earthworm, then another, and then another. Because the fish ate so many poisoned earthworms, it also became sick. It was so sick that it couldn’t swim fast enough to escape from a big catfish. The catfish ate so many of these poisoned fish, that its body was full of pesticides.

Then Sunil caught the catfish and took it home to Devika who cooked it for dinner.

Who would have thought that Devika could became sick because Farmer Kumble in the next town sprayed some pesticides on his field? But, because animals eat other animals, this kind of poisoning does happen.

Each time we eat part of an animal – the meat of a chicken or cow – or drink its milk, we also eat some of the chemical pesticides that are in its body. We can build up large amounts of pesticide in our own bodies. These pesticides don’t usually kill us, but they can make us sick. And it’s not only animals that are sprayed with pesticides – we can get sick from eating sprayed plants too.

What can you do to prevent yourself and others from getting sick?

Well, the best solution is not to use pesticides at all. When you spray pesticides you contaminate many things – soil, plants, worms, fish, and people. But there may be times when you need to use pesticides. If you must use them, make sure that you understand and follow all safety precautions. If you don’t know how to use pesticides safely, get help from someone who does. Don’t use the kind of pesticide that stays inside your body, and builds up. These are pesticides such as DDT, lindane, heptachlor, dieldrin, and endrin. These pesticides have been banned in many countries, but they are still sold in some places.


Écrit par: Vijay Cuddeford, rédacteur, Réseau de Radios Rurals des Pays en Développement.

Révision: Dr. Susan Sang, World Wildlife Fund, Canada.

Information sources

Chaîne toxique, Nouvelles de Pronat, No. 37/38, jan/juin 1998, page 17.