Insecticides control insect populations in residences, agricultural and commercial areas alike. While some insecticides are organic, there are many chemical or inorganic ones that remove destructive or harmful insects but pose serious health hazards if ingested by humans or animals. All insecticides are monitored by the Environmental Protection Agency that outlaws their use at any time if it feels a threat or danger to people using a particular type.
The use of insecticides dates back centuries. The Greeks used sulfur to deter insects as early as 1000 B.C. The ancient Chinese used arsenic to control insect populations. According to Clemson State University Extension, the first documented insecticide in the United States was a sulfur-tobacco dip employed to control sheep scab in 1854. DDT was invented in Switzerland in 1939, allowing farmers to use a synthetic insecticide. However, the EPA banned it in 1972.
There are two main types of insecticides---organic and inorganic. Organic contain carbon compounds while inorganic insecticides contain boric acid or silica. Silica, also used as a commercial insecticide on its own deprives insects of the waxy outer covering that protects their exoskeleton upon contact, causing death. Boric acid is an active ingredient in commonly used household insecticides including ant baits. It remains ineffective until ingested, causing insect death due to its corrosive properties.
Although largely criticized for their harmful properties, insecticides provide several advantages that cannot be ignored. They kill insects that eat or damage fruit and vegetables, preventing food shortages and economic losses. Some insecticides prevent food spoilage, thus allowing fruit and vegetables to be transported to far flung areas or stores easily. They also prevent diseases to consumers. Domestic insecticides used against flies and roaches protect adults and children from a wide range of diseases transmitted directly or indirectly through contact.
Insecticides have their share of disadvantages, which is why the EPA measures the risks of each before giving its approval for domestic or commercial use. The EPA pulled back DDT due to tests that revealed its link to Parkinson's disease. Other commonly used insecticides (lindane, alachlor and atrazine) are responsible for reproductive problems, kidney failure and cancer in extreme cases. Inorganic insecticides that remain in the soil for long periods of time build up, causing harm to surrounding plant life, grazing animals and nearby pond fish.
Certain organic insecticides have been developed to counter the danger and risks of inorganic ones, such as pyrethrom derived from chrysanthemums, and others derived from foods. However, the production of organic insecticides is more costly that their inorganic counterpart. These are also slightly milder in nature and require frequent application in order to take effect. These factors push farmers towards the use of inorganic insecticides that are cheaper and provide immediate results.