Top Harmful Chemicals in Modern Fertilizers that could kill you
Updated: Oct 2, 2021
It is no secret that modern farming methods employ heavy doses of a number of chemical-based fertilizers, pesticides, and plant growth regulators. That means the food that we get from the local market is often laced with these chemicals and can be extremely harmful to our health.
We eat vegetables and fruits to be healthy but at the end of the day, they prove to be more harmful than beneficial.
We shunned our traditional practices to adopt these chemicals we consider indispensable for the harvest to grow steadily, protected from the dangers of rodents, pests, and other organisms.
However, we can’t help but acknowledge that these chemicals are harmful and can be life-threatening in some cases. Despite 100s of studies associating these agricultural chemicals with various diseases, we continue to act blindly towards this harsh truth under the influence of advertisements and propaganda of these chemical-producing corporations.
Even if used in moderation, they can have adverse effects on our health and the environment over the years. The most troublesome part of this whole process is that these chemicals are most often not used in moderation.
Granted, there are certain government rules that dictate that these chemicals should be used in moderation. But looking at the current agriculture scenario in India, the effects of the law are a far cry from what was intended.
Let’s take a look at the most commonly used fertilizers in modern agriculture and the harmful chemicals they contain:
Straight Nitrogenous Fertilizers
Straight fertilizers are those which provide only one primary plant nutrient, namely nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Straight nitrogenous fertilizer, as the name suggests, is a nitrogen-supplying fertilizer for plants.
Besides the concentrated amount of nitrogen, straight nitrogenous fertilizers also consist of ammonium sulphate, UREA, and ammonium chloride. All of these chemicals are known to cause stomach irritation and digestive issues. Some of the long-term effects of being subjected to these chemicals include life-long conditions and illnesses.
Ammonium sulphate is also known to cause irritation in the gastrointestinal tract leading to issues such as diarrhea, vomiting, and nausea.
Straight Phosphatic Fertilizers
Like Straight Nitrogenous Fertilizers, straight phosphatic fertilizers are used to provide plants roots with concentrated phosphorus to help them grow.
Straight Phosphatic fertilizers contain single and triple superphosphate. These chemicals have been studied extensively and found to have adverse effects on the environment as well as our health.
For instance, phosphate has been known to creep into creeks, streams, rivers, and lakes after being washed out by rain. When phosphatic concentration rises in the water, aquatic plants such as algae and floating weeds grow rapidly, causing oxygen levels to drop and aquatic organisms to succumb to dearth of oxygen.
Additionally, phosphatic rocks that are raw materials for these fertilizers also input heavy metals like Cadmium & Chromium apart from Zinc and Copper. These can have disastrous long-term effects on livestock and humans even after stopping fertilizer usage for 20 years.
Reference Report: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9335159/
These chemicals can also harm livestock if they happen to graze on freshly fertilized plants.
In humans, it can cause kidneys to enlarge and become pale, rendering the filtration process in our body dysfunctional.
Fortified fertilizers are used to feed degraded soil to make it fertile. It contains enhanced phosphate and nitrogen as well as zincate UREA, and Calcium Nitrate.
Fortified Fertilizers are most often used before the seeds are planted. It helps the soil gain back its fertility and increases crop yields by giving the soil the nutrients it needs to sustain the harvest.
UREA, as we all know, is an irritant for human beings and animals. It can cause rashes, itching, blisters, and in some cases, permanent skin issues. Not to mention UREA combined with nitrogen and phosphorus can cause deadly effects for humans as well as the environment.
Calcium nitrate, too, can cause dizziness, headaches, nausea, and vomiting. Some of the symptoms of long-term exposure to calcium nitrate are lethargy, muscle weakness, and illnesses such as aspiration pneumonia, and cardiac dysrhythmias.
These nutrients are specially designed to cater to the needs of plants during their early stages of development. While the chemicals found in micronutrients can help develop the crops steadily, they often remain attached to the crops and can be transferred to our digestive system regardless of how much you wash your food.
Micronutrients for plants contain manganese sulphate, ferrous sulphate, and copper sulphate. Manganese sulphate is especially harmful to kids and expecting mothers. It can cause loss of appetite, slowed growth, and reproductive issues.
Ferrous sulphate, on the other hand, is widely known as one of the most harmful of chemicals for human beings, causing constipation, dark stools, diarrhea, and gastrointestinal hemorrhage.
Lastly, the consumption of copper sulphate can lead to damage to body tissues, blood cells, the liver, and kidneys.
Reference: National Pesticide Information Centre (USA).
Growth hormones for plants are used to provide the crop with ample nutrients to help with the development. These hormones control various aspects of plant growth including seed germination, growth of roots, stems, seed development, and seed dormancy.
They are mostly used in modern farming methods to grow plants before their time of growth. These chemicals are also used to prevent the growth of certain plants/ weeds.
Plants that grow with growth hormones are not natural and can cause a number of health-related issues. These hormones are known to affect our gut microbes and cause inflammatory bowel diseases.
Since these hormones are similar to gut microbes in molecular shapes, they tend to mix with our digestive system and create a variety of consequences, some of which can lead to death.
We reviewed some of the most popular fertilizers and the harmful chemicals they contain. Most of these chemicals are present in our day-to-day food. Regardless of how many times we wash our food our how high of a temperature we boil our foods on, many of these chemicals remain and are transferred to our digestive system with each bite.
What’s the alternative?
For now, organic food is our best approach to a healthy diet and chemical-free food. Organic farming does not make use of chemical-based fertilizers. Hence the crops remain healthy and free of hazardous elements.
What’s more? Organic farming produces the best-tasting food. Organic farmers rely on natural methods to grow food, the reason why the food they grow tastes like it is supposed to. When food is grown naturally, it does little to no harm to the environment and causes minimum water, air, and soil pollution.
Right now organic farming is on the rise as more people are starting to realize the truth behind the food we eat. This movement does not only help us get a healthier organic lifestyle but also supports small-scale organic farmers who are looking to provide us better alternatives.
Helping these farmers will also help prevail the idea of organic food in the general consensus. Healthy safe food for everyone might seem like a distant dream but it is only by one step forward can we turn this dream into hope and hope into a reality.