Are Pesticides Safe?
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ARE PESTICIDES SAFE?
“Chemical pest and weed killers are readily available at my local hardware store, so they can’t be that bad.” Right? WRONG! How can this be?
What most people don’t know about lawn pesticides is that the EPA does not test them for human health safety. Instead, it relies on their manufacturers to do so. Simply put, those who manufacture the chemicals are the only ones charged with making sure they’re safe for our families, animals, and air and water. Often tested on rats, the paradigm for pesticide safety screening is “alive or dead”, rather than “alive and damaged.” Given the myriad short- and long-term health issues associated with pesticide exposure, including asthma and allergies, learning disabilities, and neurological disorders, this standard is clearly myopic.
Chemical companies are only forced to disclose the “active ingredient” in a pesticide. This means that the remaining “inert ingredients” go undisclosed, and manufacturers keep them a highly guarded secret. In other words, we really don’t know what’s in these chemicals. “Inert” does not mean “safe”; there are inert ingredients that can degrade into substances just as dangerous as active ingredients, or more so. Further, how are those groups without a commercial interest able to accurately test a product without knowing what’s in it?
The active ingredient in a pesticide is tested individually by its manufacturer, yet pesticides are never used that way. Usually they are applied in combinations, with other active and inert ingredients, and while your lawn receives one type of application your neighbor’s is most likely receiving another. Not limited to lawns, chemical cocktails are all around us: in our air, water, and food, but also in our clothing, carpets, shampoo, laundry detergent—endlessly on and on. The combined effect of these chemicals is an important factor that is not measured in manufacturer’s safety tests, though it is the reality in which we live.
One often hears that exposure to low levels of lawn pesticides is harmless. Again, manufacturer testing focuses on situations that are not experienced in the real world. For example, a manufacturer may administer varying quantities of an active ingredient to rats in a laboratory, but we know that children are not the same as rats. In 2012, the NIH issued a report stating that pesticides can alter the expression of genes without mutation; this means that exposure to a low dosage of toxic materials can cause serious inherited effects in children. We are not exposed to pesticides (and other chemicals) once or twice; we are persistently exposed, in the womb, in childhood, throughout our lives, in nearly everything we do and nearly everywhere we go. Persistence is another important factor that is overlooked in routine manufacturer safety tests.
We know that 95 percent of the pesticides used on residential lawns are possible/probable carcinogens and neurotoxins. Additionally, Congress found that 90 percent of the pesticides on the market lack even minimal required safety screening. The risks to public health and the environment clearly outweigh the benefit of having a lawn that looks like a golf course—especially when organic alternatives are widely available and highly effective.