Despite the devastating impact it has on important pollinator species, Providence College still uses pesticides on campus. Pollinators including honeybees play a vital role in our ecosystem, responsible for pollinating over 80 percent of flowering plant species. Bees are also involved in the production of one-third of the food we eat. However, across the country, humans still heavily rely on the very chemicals that are responsible for killing countless bees each year. Pesticides are not species specific. When we use pesticides to eliminate certain pests, we kill all insect species in their path. We need to stop using toxic chemicals and prioritize the preservation, health, and safety of all species.
The U.S. Department of the Interior estimates that 1 billion pounds of pesticides are used every year in the United States alone. This not only poses a threat to insect species but to humans, as pesticides can be transported via runoff into our groundwater. This means that pesticides also have a dangerous impact on marine and aquatic organisms. Additionally, because pesticides are sprayed onto fruits and vegetables, this means that pesticides are directly on our food.
Pesticides and herbicides can cause both acute and chronic health issues. As the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency explains, these chemicals can cause skin and eye irritation and, in severe cases, damage to the nervous and endocrine systems and cancers. Pesticides can also lead to respiratory issues due to inhalation. If pesticides can threaten humans at this level, it’s no surprise that bee populations are seeing dramatic population declines in recent years.
These chemicals can also lead to a variety of side effects or sub lethal effects in bees. While these effects are not deadly, they are threatening to honeybee survival and function. Researchers have found that pesticides have a negative effect on memory, learning, foraging, breathing, reproduction, and body temperature regulation, all of which impede honeybee survival individually and as a species.
Dr. Rachael Bonoan, a professor in the Providence College Biology Department who specializes in pollinator ecology, explains that one of the best things we can do to protect pollinators is to stop using pesticides. Instead of mowing the grass and landscaping frequently, we should instead embrace the natural variety of plants and wildflowers that grow on campus, including the weeds. Having a wide range of plant and flowering species significantly helps pollinators, but this plant diversity is threatened by the use of pesticides and herbicides. We should prioritize planting native plant species including coneflowers, goldenrod, and lavender which are popular among pollinators.
There are also natural, unharmful alternatives to pesticides that are equally as effective as chemical pesticides, Dr. Bonoan explains. This method, known as Integrated Pest Management, involves introducing predators into an environment to naturally remove pests. Aphids, for example, are common agricultural pests that are controlled through IPM. By introducing ladybugs into their fields, farmers can naturally eliminate aphids that are destructive to crops. Similarly, the cucumber beetle, another pest that threatens crop yield and production, is drawn to cucumbers. By cultivating cucumber plants away from the fields, they are naturally deterred from crops.
Dr. Bonoan adds that supporting local farms is also beneficial for bees as well as humans because many local farms choose to avoid using pesticides in their fields. Furthermore, instead of using chemical fertilizers to keep our lawns green, we can instead opt for natural fertilizers that are composed of animal waste and other natural materials. These fertilizers encourage nutrient release in the soil, providing plants with important nutrients naturally such as nitrogen and phosphorus.
It’s clear that pesticides are a huge threat to biodiversity. So why do we continue to use them on PC’s campus? It has been ingrained in us that we need to have a perfectly landscaped and green lawn, which continues to be the only acceptable way for many people. If we were to let the weeds, grass, and wildflowers grow, I would argue it would make our campus even more beautiful and natural, not to mention a place where biodiversity can thrive. We need to start rethinking what our front yards should look like. By continuing to rely on pesticides to make our environment unnatural and perfect, we only further harm ourselves and animals with these toxic chemicals. We need to start healing nature. In order for Providence College to truly be a part of the PVD Pesticide Free initiative, we need to fully commit to eliminating all pesticides on campus.