Insecticides: Impact on the Environment and Human Health



Insecticides have saved millions of human and animal lives since the date of their synthesis and use. They have played an important role that brought revolution in the field of agriculture and human health on control of insect pests of crops and vector-borne diseases. More than 80,000 chemical substances are now commercially available in agriculture and industry. About 4.6 million t of pesticides are applied into the environment and insecticides accounted for the largest portion of total use in the world to increase the productivity of food and fibre as well as to prevent the incidence of vector-borne diseases.

Insects are the most successful group of animals existing in every segment of environment. They are polyphagous and migratory in nature, with high fecundity and short life span and diapausing (over-wintering) under adverse conditions. Food and fibre crops are damaged by more than 10,000 species of insects, with an estimated annual loss of 13.6 % globally. In human health, more than 3,100 species of mosquitoes, vector of malaria, kill more than 1–3 million people annually. Approximately 40 % of the world’s population lives in areas at risk of malaria and every year about 500 million people become severely ill with malaria. Dengue, the most prevalent mosquito-borne viral disease, is estimated to cause 100 million infections each year, 250,000–500,000 of which are the cause of severe illness.

Despite their importance, insecticides also have negative impact, like toxic residues in food, water, air and soil, resurgence and resistance of insect pests, and effect on non-target organisms. More than 645 species of insects and mites have developed resistance to insecticides with 542 species of arthropods resistant to at least one compound. About 7,470 cases of resistance have been reported in insects to a particular insecticide; 16 species of arthropods accounted for 3,237 (43 %).

The effects of insecticides on human health are more risky because of their exposure either directly or indirectly; yearly, more than 26 million people suffer from pesticide poisoning with nearly 220,000 deaths. Hundreds of millions of people are exposed to pesticides every year, primarily through agriculture: Globally, 36 % of workers are employed in agriculture; this figure is rising to almost 50 % in Southeast Asia and the Pacific and to 66 % in sub-Saharan Africa. However, with all their hazards, the production of insecticides is continuously increasing in the international trade. Global pesticide use reached record sales of US$ 40 billion in 2008.

We are continuously facing the challenges to decrease the incidence of insect pests and vectors to maintain a safe environment for future generations. Therefore, concerted global efforts shall be made to achieve this goal by safer alternatives.


Insecticides Resistance Pollution Organophosphates Pesticide residue Resurgence 


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Plant Protection, Faculty of Agricultural SciencesAligarh Muslim UniversityAligarhIndia

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