Pesticides can be defined as any substance or mixture of substances intended for preventing, destroying, repelling, or mitigating pests. Pests can be insects, rodents, weeds, and a host of other unwanted organisms (Ecobichon, 2001a). Thus, pesticides occupy a rather unique position among the many chemicals that we encounter daily, in that they are deliberately added to the environment for the purpose of killing or injuring some form of life. Ideally, their injurious action would be highly specific for undesirable targets; in reality, however, many pesticides are not highly selective, and are often toxic to many nontarget species, including humans. Thus, the use of pesticides must minimize the possibility of exposure of nontarget organisms to injurious quantities of these chemicals (Murphy, 1986).
It is not uncommon for people to refer to pesticides as a single unitary class of chemicals, while in fact the term “pesticide” should be equated to that of pharmaceutical drugs. As there are dozens of drugs with different therapeutical indications and different mechanisms of action, several different classes of pesticides exist, with different uses, mechanisms, and, hence, toxic effects in nontarget organisms. The most common classification of pesticides relies on the target species they act on. The four major classes (and their target pests) are those of insecticides (insects), herbicides (weeds), fungicides (fungi, molds), and rodenticides (rodents), and there are also acaricides (mites), molluscicides (snails, other mollusks), miticides (mites), larvicides (larvae), and pediculicides (lice). In addition, for regulatory purposes, plant growth regulators, repellents, and attractants (pheromones) often also fall in this broad classification of chemicals. Furthermore, within each class, several subclasses exist, with substantially different chemical and toxicological characteristics. For example, among insecticides, one can find organophosphorus compounds, carbamates, organochlorines, pyrethroids, neonicotinoids, and many other chemicals. Even within each of these subclasses, significant differences can exist, as is the case, for example, of organochlorine compounds such as DDT, aldrin, or chlordecone. Thus, detailed knowledge of the toxicological characteristics of each chemical is needed to properly evaluate their potential risks for nontarget species.
The literature pertaining to the chemistry, development, nomenclature, biotransformation and degradation, environmental effects, toxicity in target and nontarget species, and mode of action of pesticides over the past several decades is very extensive, and the reader is referred to the monographs of O'Brien (1967), Ecobichon and Joy (1982), Hayes (1982), Wagner (1983), Matsumura (1985), Costa et al. (1987), Baker and Wilkinson (1990), Dikshith (1991), Hayes and Laws (1991), Chambers and Levi (1992), Satoh and Gupta (2010), and Krieger (2001, 2010), for more in-depth discussions of various aspects of pesticide toxicology.
Pesticides have been used to a limited degree since ancient times. The Ebers Papyrus, written about 1500 BC, lists preparations to expel fleas from the ...