Herbicides and pesticides are globally used to achieve the improved food production and reduce crops susceptibility to pathologies and plagues. However, these chemicals may also have various negative environmental influences: persistent application can decrease the productivity of soil, bioaccumulation may eradicate living organisms, and ground-water infiltration can contaminate water (Lichtfouse, 2011). In addition, herbicides and pesticides may have unpremeditated negative impacts on human health, such as respiratory complications and impaired development of children.
In the recent past, the availability of agricultural chemicals has increased among the developing economies. Previously, only rich farmers could afford agricultural chemicals, but with the current regulations, they have become much accessible in developing economies where limitations are rather loose (Korol, 2004). Therefore, the following paper focuses on the influence of the application of pesticides in agriculture on the quality of gravity-fed water and particularly on its impact on ecology in Panama.
Pesticides in Agriculture
Poor regulations or the lack of proper chemical management for agricultural chemicals in emerging economies are the significant issues that could deter sustainable development among such economies. According to the World Health Organization, hazardous farm chemicals are ranked among the chemicals of significant public health concern all over the globe (Korol, 2004).
One of the developing economies with apparently nonexistent controls on agricultural chemicals is Panama. The government has only legislated on commercialization and transportation of the discussed chemicals in this country. Most impoverished workers in rural areas are the least regulated representatives of the population and highly vulnerable to negative impacts of chemicals use. This exposure is more prominent due to the uncontrolled pesticides supply and the lack of proper safety training regarding the use of agricultural chemicals (Agarwala, 2006).
In Panama, pesticides are used in the areas that were once water catchment. While occupation exposure may be significant, exposure through drinking water may impact a larger population that depends on the gravity-fed water systems which are usually surrounded by agricultural areas. Thus, rural populations are exposed to the ingestion of contaminated water, especially during the rainy season when pesticides are actively used (Enger, 2010).
In the Darien region of Panama, rural people are mostly involved in farming. Some of the major crops grown in this region include coffee, cacao, sugar cane, and fruits. Livestock rearing is also widely practiced in the rustic areas of Panama where deforestation and the use of agricultural chemicals is widely implemented (Easton, 2009). Ranching and farming activities are mainly performed in highland regions with significant population of living in lowland areas. In addition, most of water sources are gravity-fed flowing from highlands. Therefore, if farms in water catchment areas apply agricultural chemicals, there are significant chances of water contamination (Dashek, 2009).
In the Darien region, there is a significant difference between the dry and rainy seasons, where most agricultural activities are done during rainy seasons. This peculiarity implies that there are the possibilities of water contamination from runoff impacting the population at lowlands depending on rivers as the source of water for their domestic use.
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Motivations, Purposes, and Hypotheses
The motive of the current work is to understand and further reduce the illness in population caused by unregulated application of agricultural chemicals in developing economies.
The purposes of the study are as follows:
1. Exploration of ecological and health influences of the use of pesticides in farming activities.
2. Provision of the recommendations aimed at reduction of potential risks and minimization of ecological and human health influences.
The hypotheses of the study consist in the following aspects:
1. Agricultural chemicals in the gravity-fed water systems in the location under study are above the threshold concentration for acceptable levels for human consumption.
2. The concentrations of farm chemicals in the water have the potential of destroying aquatic life.
3. The implementation of alternative farming practices may reduce the impacts of chemical usage on ecology.
Developing Economies Studies
Most literature regarding the utilization of agricultural chemicals in the emerging economies is widely focused on their availability and usage. These chemicals are easily accessible and widely applied in spite of the fact that there is little information on their harmfulness and the lack of regulations on their sale. As a result, emerging economies have largely increased their use on pesticides in the recent past due to their transitions from agricultural-based to industrial-based economies (Lichtfouse, 2011).
Though small-scale application from cattle ranchers and subsistence farmers remain insignificant in comparison to the large-scale farming, they require thorough consideration. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 3 million cases of severe poisonings with more than 200,000 deaths were registered. In turn, an epidemiological study in Hospital Santo Tomas in Panama revealed that there were 343 agricultural chemical intoxication incidents (Lichtfouse, 2009).
Apart from the above mentioned, an investigation of farmers in Venezuela established a significant difference in pesticide-linked health issues when comparing farmers to those not involved in this activity. The results obtained shoved that farmers rarely used protective gears. According to a similar study conducted in Egypt, 86 percent of the respondent farmers reported the usage of the harmful farming chemicals in their house, though their application was not intentional (Enger, 2010).
The major factors impacting occupational exposure include improper safety practices that may be attributed to the lack of occupational regulations and safety trainings. In fact, the majority of agrochemical users in emerging economies do not possess basic education and safety skills.
The population of the study is a small native village in the Darien region of Panama. The system in focus is a gravity-fed aqua system (spring) that provides water for domestic use to a population of about 135 villagers. The spring has been in use since 1996, facing a threat from deforestation and the increased land use. In addition, water quality has been affected by the use of agrochemicals by local farmers who are at higher attitude than the source of gravity-fed water spring. Hence, during rainy seasons, spring is susceptible to chemical contamination from runoff.
A suitable model is selected with the consideration of hypothesis and objective of the study. The aims of hypotheses are to investigate the contamination of water and the impact it has on household consumption and aqua life.
When the agrochemicals are utilized, they influence various elements of environment in several ways, namely biological, chemical, and physical processes that occur with persistence of chemicals that further have impact on biodiversity. Persistence is the standard of measuring how long the agrochemical residues remain in environment.
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EXPRESS agrochemical transmission design established by the US Environmental Protection Agency was used to measure the concentration levels of agrochemical in household water. GENEEC2 and FIRST provide for Level I models, while EXAMS and PRZM are under Level II. EXPRESS model comprises the integration of all these elements with the graphical interface.
The Mean of Daily Dosage (MDD) through drinking water was calculated on individual participants applying the EXPRESS model, and was compared to the reference dosage as administered orally (RFD). The MDD exceeded the measures of RFD, which implied minimum risk to exposure. On the other hand, RFD was utilized in the establishment of breaking point of agrochemical concentration in drinking water. It should be mentioned that break point is the concentration level at which pesticides become harmful to consumers.
Depending on the season and the amount of human activities undertaken on the elevated part of the water source, the agrochemicals were found to pose higher risk to consumers during rainy season as compared to dry ones.
Conclusion and Recommendations
It is sensible to consider the enhancement in the application of watershed safety as a part of a multi-facet approach as opposed to the technological mitigation approaches.
The usage of agrochemicals immediately before or during the rainy season would increase the concentration of harmful chemical elements in drinking water more than application that is followed by delayed rainfall. Alternative farming practices, such as rotational farming and the implementation of biological means of controlling pest, would help in reducing the harmful impacts of agrochemicals on biodiversity as a whole.
For future studies considerations, one should focus on the development of emerging economy context model to further foresee the results for global development and improvement if possible.