We have been aware of the risks of chemical pesticides used in agriculture since the 1960s, when Rachel Carson's book "Silent Spring" helped call attention to the topic.
So why, as Americans work toward a greener future, have sensible alternatives been so few and far between?
After a decade of development, application and testing, a Bluffton resident and his company have come up with a product that seems too good to be true. But successful trials in at least 16 countries around the globe can't be wrong.
Environmental and mechanical engineer Art Martin is president and principal research scientist at Global Infection Control Consultants, LLC (GICC), a company that studies and resolves problems involving "the dynamics of the pathogenic bio-aerosol connection to the human infection matrix," i.e., clearing the air of pathogens or bacteria in places like hospitals.
Martin created Path-Away through his research over the years, and now his son Kevin Martin, CEO, works with him to distribute the product.
Path-Away is plant-based, certified organic and non-GMO, with no alcohol, drugs or added chemicals. It's soluble and environmentally friendly to aquatics, birds, bees and soil with extremely low toxicity. It has been tested successfully for safety in many applications, including agriculture, poultry, equine, textile, medical marijuana and virtually all indoor environments.
GICC uses Path-Away to tackle a wide variety of issues including infection control; crop control; textile contamination control; poultry, livestock and equine contamination control. The product is used also to keep commercial, residential, industrial and institutional occupied structures pathogen free for safe habitation through clean air control.
"It's more effective than any chemical-based pesticide in the market today," Martin said. "It's been tested in different climates around the world, from the desert in Saudi Arabia to jungles and rainforests."
According to studies, the disinfectant poses excellent antimicrobial, antifungal activity as well as antibacterial and anti-parasitic.
Martin has used Path-Away in settings such as medical facilities for HIV patients whose immune systems were too sensitive for chemical disinfectant or helping improve the health of workers at a clothing manufacturer in Bangladesh. He has worked with international governments on infection control for an array of circumstances.
"Our main focus is always people, but we have a hard time saying no," Martin commented.
Recognizing a broad spectrum of potential applications, the company shifted focus to agriculture and developed a liquid version that eliminates harmful insects by blocking the productions of pheromones and increases crop yields by a significant margin. Using it, they have been able to save crops and livestock from devastation from bacteria.
"The same bacteria is on humans as on plants. It's a matter of figuring out how to apply it," Martin explained. "The way it works is through the method of action instead of chemicals. It clings to the cellular wall and prevents cells from taking up amino acids. So they can't replicate, and they die. My son calls it a 'diet pill for bacteria.' It does not affect healthy cells because they have a different metabolic rate. It only targets accelerated growth."
Nigeria is one of the world's biggest consumers of rice, but historically they are forced to import most of it. By gradually increasing production with massive aerial sprays of the plant-based solution on the paddies, they are working toward self-sustainable rice crops.
In the Philippines, Martin has worked with Dole on coconut and pineapple crops, which were 65 percent infected before they applied Path-Away.
The previous treatment they had been using was extremely toxic, killing bees and requiring biohazard suits to apply. Now a university is growing strawberries, which have never been successfully harvested there before, using his product.
"I don't know anything about chickens or coconuts. I know about the disease and how to kill it," Martin noted.
A turkey farmer in Iowa used Path-Away on 600 isolated birds suffering from avian encephalitis, a viral disease. The decision was a last-ditch effort before destroying the infected turkeys.
After a six-month growing cycle, all 600 birds were cured, no longer needed antibiotics and, surprisingly, were four pounds heavier than normal.
Three growing cycles later, that farmer has entirely eliminated antibiotics from his poultry and has exceeded his yearly profits by $1 million, according to Martin.
"The farmer's father referred to it at 'fairy juice,'" he said. "Can you imagine if this happened for poultry farmers worldwide? I think there are benefits to this way beyond what we get out of it. The implications are staggering.
"For me it's not about money anymore. It's helping someone else and giving back."
For more information, visit www.path-away.com or www.giccllc.com.
Shae Dalrymple is the assistant editor of the Bluffton Sun.