by Diane Rabinowitz, Los Angeles High School

How has the use of pesticides in California agriculture allowed agribusiness to develop? What are the benefits of pesticide use? What are the environmental and human health costs? What are the alternatives to the use of toxic pesticides? Students will investigate these questions in this series of lessons designed as the "Assignment" portion of the UCLA/LAUSD "Mexican-Americans in 19th and 20th Century U.S. History" course offered January 19-20 2007.


Ancient stone tablets tell us that humans have used pesticides to control insects and other pests for a long time. Herbs, chemicals, and minerals have been employed in agriculture for centuries by various cultures. It is only in the 20th and 21st centuries the quest to improve food production has led to the development of powerful and controversial chemical substances to apply to the soil.

Since the 1800s, Mexicans have been moving north to California, at first occupying and farming land, and in later political environments, they were imported to become farm workers. California's agricultural industry thas since become one of the most successful agricultures in human history.

Research and development of chemistry has brought new chemical technologies into every aspect of modern life. Since the 1800s, agriculture has thrived partially due to the chemical fertilizers and pesticides that have been developed. Chemical production companies have also thrived by providing compounds that help keep insects and microorganisms at bay and keeping our crops healthy.

Unfortunately, it has been discovered that many of these chemical compounds cause damage to the atmosphere. They are also toxic to living tissue, and cause cancer, lung, nervous system and reproductive damage, particularly in the farm workers that work closely with these pesticides.

An elaborate tracking system has been developed to track and document the use of these substances, as well as statistics about health and disease among farm workers and people in the proximity to pesticide application. The use of pesticides has become regulated, with the more dangerous ones designated to be phased out.

Is enough being done to monitor the effects of pesticides on the environment? Is enough being done to educate the farm workers about the effects of pesticides on their health? In this webquest you will find some answers to these questions, and present your information in the upcoming Senate Hearings on Pesticide Use in California.