Spring is here and part of many people’s regimen for taking care of their garden and lawn might include pesticides. Now seems like the perfect time to dispel some pesticide myths to keep your lawn, pets, and family safe. Which Pesticide Myth below do you think is most important?
Pesticide Myth #1: Pesticides are carefully tested before being sold.
You would expect a product to be tested for safety before being sold to the public, but sadly this isn’t the case with all pesticides. Pesticide regulations and testing protocol are outdated and were created before the long term effects of many chemicals were fully understood.
Pesticide Myth #2: The government regulates pesticides.
Like pesticide myth #1 hints, there isn’t much regulation of pesticides. Not only that, but most regulations come up after problems have already occurred, rather than before they occur, leaving the public responsible for proving a chemical has harmed them. In fact, many of the more common chemicals used on lawns and gardens are banned in other countries. There are even allegations that the EPA ignores peer-reviewed studies about the dangers of pesticides and that the reviews they do consider are sponsored by pesticide companies. There are also no regulations ensuring safe and effective pesticide packaging for proper containment of the product.
Pesticide Myth #3: Small amounts of pesticides are fine.
Although proper application of pesticides may only expose a person to small amounts of a chemical, the ingredients in pesticides are extremely powerful. A part per trillion of these chemicals can be dangerous, especially to pregnant women. (For reference, a part per trillion is one drop out of three Olympic-sized swimming pools.) Endocrine interrupters are especially dangerous, because hormone levels are very easy to affect with even the smallest amount of a chemical.
Pesticide Myth #4: Pesticides are safe for humans.
This one is a hugely dangerous pesticide myth. Of 30 of the most commonly used lawn pesticides 19 have studies pointing toward carcinogens, 13 are linked with birth defects, 21 with reproductive effects, 15 with neurotoxicity, 26 with liver or kidney damage, 27 are sensitizers and/or irritants, and 11 have the potential to disrupt the endocrine system. Pregnant women and children are especially vulnerable to these chemicals and many have been linked to birth defects. Children feel greater effects of chemicals because their bodies are still developing and studies have shown exposure to pesticides can increase the risk of childhood lymphoma, asthma, ADHD, and leukemia.
Pesticide Myth #5: Once a pesticide degrades, it disappears completely.
Pesticides are not as biodegradable as the companies making them would like to have you believe. Run-off into waterways can stay there for years. Many of the chemicals used in pesticides are residual and will stay in soil long past when they are supposed to. The chemicals break down into metabolites, smaller parts that may be even more toxic.
Pesticide Myth #6: Pesticides help eradicate harmful diseases and pests.
There are some who think pesticides are leading to the decrease (and eventual extinction) of bedbugs or malaria and West Nile virus. In reality, these problem bugs and diseases have been resistant to pesticides since before chemicals like DDT were removed from the market. They’re pesky and there is no evidence that pesticides are the reason for any decrease in them.
Pesticide Myth #7: Pesticide labels have all the information about the chemicals inside.
While advertising in huge letters all the benefits of a product, pesticide labels will list warnings in tiny letters that are not easy to read. The “active” ingredients make up only about 5% of the product and the so-called inert ingredients are not actually inert at all. 800 out of around 1200 inerts are classified as “of unknown toxicity,” 57 as highly toxic, and 64 as potentially toxic. In addition to not listing all the ingredients in a product, there will also be very little on the label about long term effects.
Pesticide Myth #8: Pesticides stay where they’re applied.
We’ve all heard the phrase “pesticide run-off.” Pesticides can be washed off by routine watering or rain. This run-off, once in streams and lakes, is toxic to aquatic wildlife. Not only that but it can encourage algae blooms, which drain the water source of oxygen. If pesticides reach drinking water sources, it can be extremely dangerous to humans. (See myth #4 for more on this.) Once these chemicals are in the water, it is expensive and extremely difficult to remove them again. Not only is pesticide run-off an issue but these chemicals can also get tracked into your home by shoes, pets’ feet, or wind through an open door. Once in your home, they can stay on surfaces or furniture, further endangering your family.
Pesticide Myth #9: Pesticides aren’t harmful to wildlife.
This pesticide myth is especially outrageous—a pesticide’s primary use is to harm wildlife! In addition to the pests that pesticides are supposed to kill, of the 30 most commonly used pesticides 16 are toxic to birds, 24 are toxic to fish and aquatic organisms, and 11 are deadly to bees. Not only are bees affected, but so are other positive insects in your garden or lawn as well as the microorganisms that work so hard to make your soil healthy. Non-native species of plants and animals are especially vulnerable to these chemicals. Research has found that dogs exposed to herbicides or pesticides can have their risk for certain cancers increase by four to seven.
For many, lawn and garden care is a relaxing hobby. Pesticides are very powerful, however, and should not be used so lightly. If you’re going to use pesticides instead of going organic, please be sure to read all labels, do your research, and separate pesticide reality from pesticide myth.
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