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  • Print publication year: 2008
  • Online publication date: September 2010

Chapter 16 - Assessing environmental risks of pesticides


For synthetic chemicals to pose an environmental risk, a complex sequence of events must unfold that result in a toxic compound reaching a site of action within a susceptible organism with resultant impacts on behavior, fitness or survival. For most chemicals, other than pesticides, toxicity to any organism within the environment, including humans, is an unintended consequence of their use. Pesticides are however among a group of compounds that are synthesized and utilized in such a way that they exhibit direct toxicity to particular organisms, specifically those organisms that humans define as pathogens or pests. Humans compete directly with these organisms for the harvestable yield of crop plants and using poisons to remove them and protect the food and fiber supply has been considered an acceptable, even desirable, activity for centuries, despite evidence that adverse effects on non-target organisms can occur (Devine & Furlong, 2007; Kogan & Jepson, 2007).

Defining environmental risk

Environmental risk is normally expressed as the probability that a defined adverse impact or endpoint will occur within a particular organism as a result of exposure to an environmental stressor (Suter, 1993). Throughout this chapter, I will use the term risk broadly when referring to different kinds of pesticide environmental impact. In some cases, the risks that I refer to could be defined more narrowly as the estimate of probability derived from the product of dose or exposure to the toxin and the susceptibility of the organism to it.

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