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Pesticides, nanoparticles... How are they dangerous for our health?

Pesticides, nanoparticles... How are they dangerous for our health? Glyphosate, you have certainly heard of it. But do you really know what it is? And heavy metals, do you know their consequences on health? We help you see more clearly with this little glossary of the toxic substances that surround us.

They make a lot of noise, but you never really know what they are and what dangers they expose you to. Cancers, congenital malformations, hormonal imbalances, and neurodegenerative diseases would however be to be feared when one comes into recurrent contact with them. Starting with our children, as evidenced by the survey published in issue 794 of the magazine Marie Claire . But it is not only our species that is threatened:the infamous glyphosate, for example, would be just as dangerous for bees as for humans according to a study published on September 24, 2018 in the proceedings of the Académie des American Science (PNAS).

So to better understand what threats await us all, here is a short list of all those "words" that scare us.


What is it? They are one or more poisonous chemical compounds intended to destroy living beings. There are several:herbicides (against weeds), insecticides (against insects), fungicides (against fungi), or rat poisons (the famous "rat death").

What's the problem? Widely used in agriculture, they contaminate the air and soil and then end up in our food or our homes. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately one million serious poisonings due to pesticides and nearly 220,000 deaths occur each year worldwide.

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What are the consequences for our health? Repeated exposure to excessive doses can cause fertility or reproduction disorders, neurodegenerative pathologies such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases, or even contribute to the development of brain tumors and certain cancers (prostate, blood, lymphatic system, breast, etc.). In addition, an 80% increase in the risk of childhood leukemia has been noted in the children of mothers exposed to pesticides (especially household insecticides) during pregnancy.

And glyphosate? Among the most controversial pesticides, we find this herbicide known through the famous weedkiller "Roundup" of the American firm Monsanto (subsidiary since 2018 of the German Bayer). Widely used in agriculture, it is regularly pointed out because it is suspected of being the cause of the development of serious pathologies. In March 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified it as a "probable carcinogen" for humans. In France, several defenders of ecology and members of the government have been calling for its definitive ban for several years. Thus, on January 15, 2019, the administrative court of Lyon thus canceled the marketing authorization for Roundup Pro 360. It considers that the National Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health Safety (ANSES) had "committed an error of assessment with regard to the precautionary principle" by authorizing it in March 2017.

According to an American study published in February 2019, exposure to this pesticide increases the risk of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma by 41%. This cancer develops "from cells of the lymphatic system, lymphocytes. This is a type of white blood cell involved in the body's defense reactions", explains the National Cancer Institute.

Endocrine disruptors

What is it? Of natural origin or resulting from human activities, these chemical substances are found in various products that we use on a daily basis (food, cosmetics, hygiene and household products, packaging, pesticides, etc.). The most concerning:bisphenol A (BPA), phenoxyethanol, parabens, phthalates, and triclosan.

What's the problem? Our health depends on the proper functioning of the endocrine system, responsible for regulating the secretion of our various hormones (sleep, regulation of hunger, puberty, growth, etc.). Problem:endocrine disruptors, as their name suggests, "disrupt" one or more functions of this system, either by replacing a hormone and sending a "bad" message to the organs, or by preventing the hormones from accessing to organs.

What are the consequences for our health? According to the WHO, they can in particular "contribute to the occurrence of cryptorchidism (absence of one or both testicles in the scrotum) in young boys, breast cancer in women, prostate cancer, nervous system development and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder in children, as well as thyroid cancer."

Heavy metals

What is it? These are chemical elements naturally present in the environment and widely used in industry. The most common, and dangerous, are arsenic, mercury, lead, cadmium, cobalt, tin and nickel. Iron, zinc, selenium, copper and chromium are not harmful in trace amounts, on the contrary, they are even essential nutrients. However, these can become toxic to the body from a certain quantity.

What's the problem? They contaminate the air, water and soil. Thus, they can be found in many products of animal origin such as milk, meat, honey, fish, and shellfish, but also in products of vegetable origin, and even in drinking water.

What are the consequences for our health? They are stored in the brain, kidneys, liver or even in the bones, triggering more or less serious deleterious effects, ranging from simple skin allergies to more serious pathologies such as Alzheimer's disease or certain cancers.


What is it? These are ultrafine matter particles. There are three of them:natural nanoparticles (dust from erosion or volcanic eruption, sea spray); "incidental" nanoparticles (smoke emissions from a diesel engine, heating, etc.); manufactured nanomaterials, voluntarily produced by humans, and which can be found in cosmetics, food products, or industrial materials.

What's the problem? It is found in food in the form of additives (dyes, anti-caking agents, emulsifiers, etc.), in cosmetic products (titanium dioxide (TiO2) and zinc oxide, for example, make it possible to make transparent sun creams and whitening toothpaste).

What are the consequences for our health? Due to their size, nanoparticles can cross our body's protective barriers and end up in our organs. Also, titanium dioxide nanoparticles would be responsible for a weakening of the immune system according to a study conducted by INRA in 2017.