Application and Health Effects of Pesticides Commonly Used in India

By Manoj Kumar¹ and Ashok Kumar²
May 2007

  1. PhD, Research Associate, School of Public Health, Department of Community Medicine & Department of Anesthesia, Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), Chandigarh
  2. PhD, Research Fellow, Department of Botany, DAV College, Dehradun, Uttranchal


Pesticides are widely used throughout the world in agriculture to protect crops and in public health to control diseases. Nevertheless exposure to pesticides can represent a potential risk to humans. Pesticide manufacturing unit workers are prone to possible occupational pesticide exposure. The relationship between extent of pesticide use and signs and symptoms of illnesses due to exposure was assessed in several cross-sectional surveys.

Use of pesticides in India began in 1948 when DDT was imported for malaria control and BHC for locust control. India started pesticide production with manufacturing plant for DDT and benzene hexachloride (BHC) (HCH) in the year 1952. In 1958, India was producing over 5000 metric tonnes of pesticides. Currently, there are approximately 145 pesticides registered for use, and production has increased to approximately 85,000 metric tonnes. Rampant use of these chemicals has given rise to several short-term and long-term adverse effects of these chemicals. The first report of poisoning due to pesticides in India came from Kerala in 1958 where, over 100 people died after consuming wheat flour contaminated with parathion. Subsequently several cases of pesticide-poisoning including the Bhopal disaster have been reported. Despite the fact that the consumption of pesticides in India is still very low, about 0.5 kg/ha of pesticides against 6.60 and 12.0 kg/ha in Korea and Japan, respectively, there has been a widespread contamination of food commodities with pesticide residues, basically due to non-judicious use of pesticides. In India, 51% of food commodities are contaminated with pesticide residues and out of these, 20% have pesticides residues above the maximum residue level values on a worldwide basis. It has been observed that their long-term, low-dose exposure are increasingly linked to human health effects such as immune-suppression, hormone disruption, diminished intelligence, reproductive abnormalities, and cancer.

In this light, problems of pesticide safety, regulation of pesticide use, use of biotechnology, and biopesticides, and use of pesticides obtained from natural plant sources such as neem extracts are some of the future strategies for minimizing human exposure to pesticides.

Application and health effects of pesticides commonly used in India are concluded in the following table
Pesticide Application Health Effects
DDT Effective against wide variety of insects, including domestic insects and mosquitoes Chronic liver damage cirrhosis and chronic hepatitis, endocrine and reproductive disorders, immuno suppression, cytogenic effects, breast cancer, Non hodkins lymphoma, polyneuritis.
Endosulfan It is used as a broad spectrum non systemic, contact and stomach insecticide, and acaricide against insect pests on various crops Effects kidneys, developing foetus, and liver Immuno-suppression, decrease in the quality of semen, increase in testicular and prostate cancer, increase in defects in male sex organs, and increased incidence of breast cancer. It is also mutatagenic
Aldrin Effective against wireworms and to control termites Lung cancer, liver diseases
Dieldrin Used against ectoparasites such as blowflies, ticks, lice and widely employed in cattle and sheep dips. Also used to protect fabrics from moths, beetles and against carrot and cabbage root flies/ Also used as seed dressing against wheat and bulbfly Liver diseases, Parkinson's & Alzheimer's diseases
Heptachlor It controls soil inhibiting pests. Reproductive disorders, blood dyscariasis
Chlordane It is a contact, stomach and respiratory poison suitable for the control of soil pests, white grubs and termites. Reproductive disorders, blood dyscariasis, brain cancer, Non Hodkins lymphoma
Lindane It is used against sucking and biting pest and as smoke for control of pests in grain sores. It is used as dust to control various soil pests.such as flea beetles and mushroom flies. It is effective as soil dressing against the attack of soil insects Chronic liver damage-cirrhosis and chronic hepatitis, endocrine and reproductive disorders, allergic dermatitis, breast cancer, Non hodkins lymphoma, polyneuritis.
Fenitrothion It is a broad spectrum contact insecticide effective for the control of chewing and sucking pests- locusts aphids, caterpillars and leaf hoppers. It is also used against domestic insects and mosquitoes Human epidemiological evidence indicates fenitrothion causes eye effects such as retinal degeneration and myopia. Chronic exposure to Fenitrothion can cause frontal lobe impairment. Organo-phosphates are suspected of causing neurologic deficits.
Fenthion It is a persistent contact insecticide valuable against fruitflies, leaf hoppers, cereal bugs, and weaverbirds in the tropics Fenthion may be mutagenic: causing genetic aberrations. It may be a carcinogen
Parathion A contact insecticide and acaricide with some fumigant action. Very effective against soil insects with high mammalian toxicity Parathion is a possible carcinogen
Profenofos Used for control of important cotton and vegetable pests. Used against chewing and sucking insects and mites, cotton bollworms, aphids, cabbage looper and thrips Cholinesterase inhibition and the associated neurological and neuromuscular effects
Phorate A systemic and contact insecticide employed for the control of aphids, carrot fly, fruit fly and wireworm in potatoes Cholinesterase inhibition and the associated neurological and neuromuscular effects
Malathion Widely used insecticide and acaricide used for the control of aphids thrips, red spider mites, leafhoppers and thrips Malathion and its oxygen analog malaoxon are both quite carcinogenic and have been linked with increased incidence of leukemia in mammals. Chronic health effects include: suspected mutagen and teratogen, delayed neurotoxin, allergic reactions, behavioral effects, ulcers, eye damage, abnormal brain waves and immuno-suppression
Monocrotofos A powerful contact and systemic insecticide and acaricide with a broad spectrum of activity used to control pests on crops like cotton, rice, soyabean, maize, coffee, citrus and potatoes Monocrotophos has also been shown to cause delayed neuropathy
Dimethoate. A systemic and contact insecticide and acaricide, effective against red spider mites and thrips on most agricultural and horticultural crops Dimethoate might have carcinogenicity, birth defects, reproductive toxicity and mutagenic effects
Chlorpyrifos A broad spectrum insecticide used against mosquitoes, fly larvae, cabbage root fly, aphids, codling and winter moths on fruit trees. It is also used in homes, restaurants against cockroaches and other domestic pests. It is also used for the control of termites Chlorpyrifos has chronic neurobehavioral effects like persistent headaches, blurred vision, unusual fatigue or muscle weakness, and problems with mental function including memory, concentration, depression, and irritability.
Diazinon A contact insecticide effective against a number of soil, fruit, vegetable and rice pests e.g. cabbage root, carrot and mushroom flies, aphids, spidermites, thrips and scale insects domestic pests and livestock pests Non Hodkins lymphoma
Quinalphos A broad spectrum contact and systemic insecticides applied as a spray to control pests in cereals, brassicas and other vegetables Anti-choline esterase
Triazophos Used against flies and insect pests of cerealos, maize, oilseed rape, brassicas, carrots, weevils in peas and cut worms in potatoes and other crops Anti choline esterase
Ethion Used for the control of aphids and mites Impaired memory and concentration, disorientation, severe depression, irritability, confusion, headache, speech difficulties, delayed reaction times, nightmares, sleepwalking, and drowsiness or insomnia. An influenza-like condition with headache, nausea, weakness, loss of appetite, and malaise
Acephate It is a systemic insecticide effective against chewing and sucking pests. It is a possible human carcinogen and evidence of mutagenic effects and reproductive toxicity.
Fenvalerate It act contact and stomach poison. It controls the pests on crops of cotton, vegetables and fruits. Reduction in weight.
Permethrin It is a stomach and contact insecticide effective against broad range of pests of cotton, fruit and vegetable crops. Health risks found include genetic damage - cancer potential - neurotoxic dangers to unborn children - and harm to marine life.
Cypermethrin It is a stomach and contact insecticide effective against broad range of pests of cotton, fruit and vegetable crops. Cypermethrin is a possible human carcinogen.
Deltamethrin It is a potent insecticide effective as a contact and stomach poison against broad range of pests of cotton, fruit and vegetable crops and store products. Potential endocrine disrupter
Carbaryl It is a contact insecticide and fruit thinner with a broad spectrum of activity effective against many pests of fruits, vegetables and cotton. It is also used to control earthworms and leather jackets in turf. Carbaryl may cause mutations (genetic changes) in living cells. It is a possible teratogen & may damage the kidneys and nervous systems. Within the stomach produces N-nitrocarbaryl, a well known carcinogen, Non-hodkins Lymphoma, brain cancer.
Carbofuran It is a broad spectrum systemic insecticide, acaricide and nematicide used against insects, mites and incorporated in soil for control of soil insects and nematodes. Carbofuran causes cholinesterase inhibition in both humans and animals, affecting nervous system function.
Aldicab It is a systemic insecticide, acaricide and nematicide which is formulated as granules for soil incorporation. It is effective for control of aphids, nematodes,flea beetles, leaf miners, thrips and white flies on a wide range of crops. Aldicarb is a cholinesterase inhibitor and so can result in a variety of symptoms including weakness, blurred vision, headache, nausea, tearing, sweating, and tremors.
Methomyl It is used as a soil and seed systemic insecticide applied as a foliar spray to control aphids. Inhibition of cholinesterase, resulting in flu-like symptoms, such as weakness, lack of appetite, and muscle aches.
2, 4-D It is a selective systemic post emergence herbicide used for the control of many annual broadleaf weeds in cereals, sugarcane and plantation crops. Twofold excess of all cancers in Swedish railway workers, Non Hodkins Lymphoma
Butachlor It controls annual grasses and some broad leaved weeds in transplant and direct seeded rice. It is applied as pre-emergence in EC formulations and as early post emergence in the form of granules. Weight loss, weight changes in internal organs, reduced brain size together with lesions.
Paraquat It is used as a plant desiccant effective against grasses. Parkinson's & Alzheimer's diseases.
Simazine &Atrazine It is a persistent soil acting herbicide which in high concentrations acts as total weed killer and in lower concentrations is used for selective control of germinating weeds in a variety of crops - maize, sugarcane, pineapple, sorghum. It is also used for long term control of annual grass and broad-leaved weeds in crops like citrus, coffee, tea and cocoa. Cancer of testes
Glyphosate It is a potent non-selective post emergence herbicide which kills mono and dicotyledonous annual and perennial weeds No adverse effects.
Isoproturon It is used to control annual grass weeds in wheat rye and barley. Isoproturon appears to be a tumour promoter rather than a complete carcinogen.
Trifluralin It is used for the control of annual grasses and broad leaved weeds in a wide range of crops cotton, groundnuts, soyabeans, brassica, beans and cereals. Prolonged or repeated skin contact with trifluralin may cause allergic dermatitis. Other effects include decreased red blood cell counts and increases in methemoglobin, total serum lipids, triglycerides, and cholesterol. It has been shown to cause liver and kidney damage in other studies of chronic oral exposure in animals.
Mancozeb It is a protective fungicide, effective against a wide range of foliage disease. Ethylenethiourea (ETU) in the course of mancozeb metabolism and production has the potential to cause goiter, a condition in which the thyroid gland is enlarged, this metabolite has produced birth defects and cancer in experimental animals
Captan It is a foliage fungicide with protective action . It is mainly used for seed treatment and soil fungicide. Captan is a possible carcinogen and mutagen
Captafol It is a protective, wide spectrum foliage and soil fungicide. Captafol has oncogenic potential (potential to cause cancer)
Carbendazim It is a systemic fungicide which controls wide range of pathogens of cereals, fruits, grapes ornamentals and vegetables. It is very effective against leaf and ear disease of wheat. It disrupts the production of sperm and damages testicular development in adult rats. Carbendazim is also a teratogen ­ damaging development of mammals in the womb.


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