Gardening with nature >> Why care?
Pesticides, human health and the environment
Exposure to pesticides
Pesticides and children
Pesticides and pregnancy
Danger to pets
Toxicity to birds and bees
Lawn and garden products give short-term relief for pest control but can create long-term costs to health and the environment.
You can have an attractive landscape in the Pacific Northwest without using hazardous pesticides. Use effective non-chemical methods and less-hazardous products. It matters what we use inside and outside homes, schools and businesses.
Increasing the demand for safer products will encourage manufacturers to make products that are safer and more environmentally sound.
People are exposed to pesticides by using them and by working or playing where pesticides are used. Exposure comes through:
Read and follow label information to reduce the risk of pesticide exposure. Not using pesticides reduces your risk of exposure even more.
Acute exposures. Children are vulnerable to accidental exposure to pesticides.
If you keep pesticides and fertilizers at home, store them safely and securely. They can contain ingredients that are very dangerous if ingested.
Chronic exposures. Children are vulnerable to repeated, very small, unintended exposure to pesticides. They are much more sensitive to pesticides and chemical exposures than adults.
A 1998 University of Washington study of Seattle-area toddlers found that nearly all of the children tested had metabolites of toxic insecticides in their bodies. They had higher levels if their parents used pesticides on the landscape.
Environmental chemicals, including pesticides, are known to collect in the bodies of humans. See details in the Fourth National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals 2009. We are not sure how this body burden (chemicals stored in our bodies) is affecting our health or the health of our developing children.
Studies looking at human health effects of pesticide exposure suggest a number of potential concerns.
You can reduce the risk of cancer and other health effects from pesticide exposure by eliminating exposure where possible, in your home or product purchasing. Completely eliminating the risk of pesticide exposure is difficult at the current time, as pesticides are used in public places, along road and water ways and on agricultural crops.
There may be a relationship between pesticides and cancer:
Many pesticide products are toxic to dogs, cats and other pets.
Many insecticides and herbicides are toxic to fish, amphibians and other aquatic organisms and can reduce water quality. As the region’s population grows, pesticide levels will likely increase unless safer and less toxic alternatives are more widely used.
Most insecticides are toxic to beneficial insects, bees and other pollinators, and some insecticides are toxic to birds.
Many beneficial insects – good bugs – help control insect pests. Since pesticides can kill beneficial insects and pollinators with the pests, pest populations can increase after spraying. Beneficial insects often take longer to rebuild their populations than pest insects, so spraying can create a pest population explosion.
The longer a pesticide remains in the environment, the more likely it is to do damage. Older products, like DDT, are still in the environment and in our bodies almost 40 years after their last uses were banned.
Most modern pesticides have shorter lifetimes. However, even newer pesticides are not gone after a day or two, and many aren’t harmless just because the treated area has dried. The half-life (the time for half the product to break down in soil) of pesticides ranges from days to weeks to a year or more. Some residues may remain even after many half-lives have passed, and sometimes the breakdown products are also persistent or toxic.
Garden products are designed to breakdown in outdoor conditions; if they travel into your home they may last longer.
Many synthetic, and some naturally-occurring, chemicals can interfere with animal and human hormone systems, potentially affecting reproduction and development. These chemicals include a number of pesticides. The extent to which human and wildlife health problems are caused by hormone-disrupting chemicals is not yet known.
In 1996 the federal government required pesticides to be routinely tested for hormone disruption potential. EPA ordered the first chemical testing for potential hormone effects in 2009; results of the studies will be available beginning in 2011.
Pesticides contain both active and so-called 'inert' ingredients.
In 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency began planning discussions about the disclosure of all inert ingredients in pesticides, including potentially hazardous ingredients. This transparency would assist consumers in making informed decisions and help protect public health and the environment. For information on the current status of this discussion.