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Pesticides | Herbicides | Fertilizers

The latest figures from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) show the use of pesticides for the non-agricultural sector to be around 213 million pounds. That is roughly twenty-five percent of all pesticide use in the United States. Homeowners alone use at least 90 million pounds of pesticides per year on lawns and gardens. And the trend is increasing. From 1998 to 2001, home usage of pesticides jumped by 42 percent. These figures are underestimations since they only measure the actual chemical, not the entire pesticide product formulation, which typically includes more than one chemical. Suburban lawns and gardens receive far heavier pesticide applications per acre than agricultural areas.

Homeowners apply between 3.2 to 9.8 lbs per acre of pesticides on lawns. On average 2.7 lbs per acre of pesticides are applied on agricultural land.

A recent 2004 study found that certain types of dogs exposed to pesticide-treated lawns and gardens increases their risk of bladder cancer by four to seven times. The study adds to earlier research published by the National Cancer Institute that found elevated rates of canine malignant lymphoma in dogs exposed to lawn pesticides such as 2,4-D, which is the most popular pesticide used by homeowners and the main ingredient found in “weed and feed” products. The latest EPA assessment of 2,4-D acknowledges the susceptibility of dogs to poisoning by 2,4-D and other similarly structured lawn pesticides but does not propose any label warnings to users. Pets, especially dogs, are highly susceptible and attracted to slug and snail baits containing a neurotoxicant, metaldehyde, that at very small doses can cause tremors, seizure, and death.

Of 30 commonly used pesticides used on lawns and landscapes, 16 are toxic to birds, 24 are toxic to fish and other aquatic organisms, 11 are toxic to bees, and 11 have the potential to disrupt the endocrine (hormonal) system in wildlife and humans. Lawn and garden pesticides are also deadly to beneficial insects and soil life vital to a naturally healthy lawn. Most pesticides are broad spectrum, meaning the chemical kills both “pests” and harmless or beneficial species. For example, carbaryl, the sixth most widely used pesticide in the home and garden sector, is highly toxic to honey bees and especially dangerous because it can be carried back to the hive and kill newly emerged worker bees.” Other studies show pesticides reduce earthworm populations and activity. Pesticides that run off lawns into local waterways can kill or contaminate fish or other aquatic species that contribute to ecosystem health and serve as food for other fish. Harmful effects can occur at concentrations far below those that cause death or obvious signs of toxicity. For example, salmon are extremely sensitive to certain types of lawn pesticides (such as diazinon, carbaryl, and malathion) that can affect their ability to feed and avoid predators.

Consumer and professional landscape pesticide use both contribute to levels of pesticides found in streams and other surface water. According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), “Information now available from the first phase of the National Water Quality Assessment (NAWQA) program shows that pesticides are widespread in streams and groundwater, occurring in geographic and seasonal patterns that follow land use and related pesticide use.” Results from the NAWQA Program also indicate that several pesticide mixtures found in urban area streams approach or exceed water quality criteria, especially in streams that experience seasonal periods.” Studies by the USGS also show 2,4-D to be the herbicide most frequently detected in streams and shallow ground water throughout the country from home and garden use.

Each year, approximately 11,000 tons of inorganic nitrogen and 2,100 tons of total phosphorus are transported by rivers and streams to Puget Sound and its adjacent waters in the state of Washington. Nearly 1/3 of the nitrogen and 1/4 of the phosphorus come from fertilizers. Nutrient runoff is three times higher from urban and agricultural lands than from forest land. Transport of fertilizers and pesticides in urban areas is greatly increased by paved surfaces and storm drains.

Pesticides can drift thousands of miles in the air from the application area, into people's homes and bloodstreams, exposing them to pesticides without their knowledge or consent. Alarming levels of pesticides are found in the indoor air and dust of people's homes. In a 2003 study, a majority of the homes sampled contained current, old and newly banned pesticides in the dust, such as pentachlorophenol (86%), DDT (65%), chlordane (53%), chlorpyrifos (18%). Many of the pesticides found are suspected endocrine disruptors that mimic cells and can lead to several cancers and other problems. In a study of pesticides and their metabolites in urine, the Centers for Disease Control found that children ages 6-11 had six metabolites of organophosphate insecticides, three chlorinated phenols and the herbicide 2,4-D.

Even low levels of pesticides can be dangerous. According to the American Medical Association's Council on Scientific Affairs, “Particular uncertainty exists regarding the long-term health effects of low dose pesticide exposure…. Considering these data gaps, it is prudent for homeowners, farmers and workers to limit pesticides exposures to themselves and others, and to use the least toxic chemical pesticide or non chemical alternative.”

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    The Registry of Nature Habitats
    PO Box 321
    Meridale, NY 13806
    Copyright 1999 - All Rights Reserved

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